The Camerlengo


Office of the Apostolic Camera, 17th Century

Gregorio Leti (writing as Girolamo Lunadoro) notes that the Camerlengo enjoys an income of 10,000 to 12,000 scudi a year (p. 39). He has jurisdiction over all suits involving the Apostolic Camera, and can judge separately or in association with the Clerics of the Apostolic Camera; he is not impeded by Consistory. He has appellate jurisdiction over suits decided by the Masters of the Roads. He is the chief officer in the Apostolic Camera, the Financial Council of the Pope. In his office are the Governor of Rome (who is Vice-Chancellor), The Treasurer, the Auditor, the President, the Advocate General, the Fiscal Procurator, the Commissary, and twelve Clerks of the Chamber (one with the special title of Prefect of the Grain Supply, another Prefect of Provisions, another Prefect of Prisons, and another Prefect of Roads). Each Clerk of the Chamber receives around 8,000 scudi a year, representing 10% of the business that passes through his office. (Tableau, Chapitre IX-XIV, pp. 256-265). The Cardinal Camerlengo is also Archchancellor of the University of Rome, La Sapienza.

In his Bull In eligendis (October 9, 1562, published October 21), Pope Pius IV regulates the office of the Camerarius Apostolicae Camerae (the Cardinal Camerlengo), during the Sede Vacante:

Camerarii quoque & Majoris Poenitentiarii officia, quae etiam Sede Vacante durante ita durare decernimus, & declaramus ut non solum ea quae praesenti Constitutione prohibentur et quae Pontifice vivente exercere non consueverunt, seu a quibus pro eiusdem Pontificis reverentia, aut alias quomodolibet abstinebant, minime usurpent; sed Camerarius, ac Praesidentes & Clerici, aliique Ministri & Officiales Camerae Apostolicae exactioni pecuniarum eidem Camerae debitarum, ac provisionibus ratione Sedis vacantis juxta praemissa necessario faciendis dumtaxat incumbere, & propterea a solutione debitorum ante Pontificis obitum contractorum, aut illorum declaratione, rationum solidatione, extractionibus frumentorum, remissionibus delictorum, assecurationibus delinquentium, & quibuscumque aliis expeditionibus, tam gratiam quam justitiam aut illarum executionem quomodolibet concernentibus omnino abstinere debeant.

The Office of the Chamberlain continues to operate during the Sede Vacante, but the officials are not to engage in any activities which were not customary during the lifetime of the Pope; they may expend funds and supplies required by the Sede Vacante, but they are not to engage in any regular business such as paying the debts of the deceased Pontiff, or declaring them in a reconciling of accounts, remitting penalties or returning securities of defaulters, or any other business, either for the sake of favors or justice. Subordinate to the Chamberlain (Camerlengo) is the Treasurer of the Apostolic Chamber.


Officials of the Apostolic Camera

The Cardinal Chamberlain of the Holy Roman Church (Camerlengo)
The Governor of Rome, Vice-Chamberlain
The Treasurer-General of the Holy Roman Church
The Auditor of the Camera Apostolica
The President of the Apostolic Camera
The Advocate of the Poor
The Fiscal Advocate
The Commissary of the Apostolic Camera
The Clerics of the Apostolic Camera (12 in number, of whom four have special titles:)
    Prefect of the Annona
    Prefect of Grace
    Prefect of the Prisons (carceri)
    Prefect of the Roads (strade)




Officials appointed by the Camerlengo
during the Sede Vacante


During the Sede Vacante the Cardinal Camerlengo resides in the Papal apartments, is guarded by the Swiss Guard, and has the right to coin money. He holds one of the keys to the Castel S. Angelo. The importance of the Camerlengo during a vacancy in the Holy See in the 17th and 18th centuries can be seen, in part, through a list of the officials who are appointed by him at that time (each with an appropriate fee, in cash and kind):


The Camerlengo in the 19th -21st Centuries

The powers of the Camerlengo waxed and waned from one papacy to the next (list of documents in Haine, 184-185). But the growth in importance of the Secretary of State (Pius VII, Post diurtinos, October 30, 1800; see Moroni, 122) brought a decrease in the powers of the Camerlengo (Cartwright, 31-42). When Pius IX, on September 10, 1850, divided the administration of his public affairs into five ministries (Interior, Grace and Justice, Finance, Army, Commerce-Industry-Beaux Arts and Public Works), and placed these ministries under the supervision of the Secretary of State, the importance of the Camerlengo decreased precipitously. When the Papal States, and then the City of Rome, were annexed to the Kingdom of Italy, the papal government became a shadow of what it had been. The remaining functions of the Cardinal Camerlengo were and are mostly ceremonial in nature. In the twentieth century, the office of Secretary of State was combined with that of Camerlengo by Cardinal Pietro Gasparri (from 1916-1930), Cardinal Eugenio Pacelli (from 1935-1939), and Cardinal Jean Villot (from 1970-1979). In the twenty-first century, they were held concurrently by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone (since 2007, until his retirement).


Death of a Pope

Up until recent times, upon the death of a Pope, it was the duty of the Cardinal Chamberlain to perform a ceremony officially identifying the body of the deceased. Accompanied by the officials of the Apostolic Camera, the Camerlengo approaches the death-bed of the pope. The face of the pope, which had been covered with a white cloth, is revealed. The Camerlengo and all those present kneel in meditation. They rise and the Camerlengo performs the ritual of absolution. The Dean of the College of Notaries reads a document called the 'Rogito', the papal equivalent of a death certificate and record of the proccedings of that day. The Fisherman's Ring is handed over to the Camerlengo by the Papal Maestro di Camera, who is its usual custodian. The ring is shown to the Cardinals present at the First Congregation after the death of the pope, and is defaced in their presence, along with the official papal seal.

Virtually all of the sources mention that the deceased pope is knocked on the head with a silver hammer, while his name is called out by the Camerlengo, and that this is done three times. That such a ceremony takes place is positively denied by Hartwell de la Garde Grissell, Chamberlain of Honor di numero to Pope Pius IX, Pope Leo XIII, and Pope Pius X, who was present at the ceremony of recognition in 1903 (Grissell, 2):

It may also be here mentioned that no such ceremony as striking the dead Pope's forehead with a silver hammer takes place, and that the exact method of calling aloud his name is not tied down to any determinate form, but is left to the discretion of the Cardinal Camerlengo.

In an original MS. diary in my possession written by Domenico Cappelli of Ascoli, who was Master of Ceremonies to five Popes—Alexander VII., Clement IX., Clement X., Innocent XI., and Alexander VIII.—he states that the custom of calling aloud three times the words 'Pater Sancte' was discontinued on the death of Clement X. in 1676.

Likewise, no mention of such a ceremony occurs in the very full, minute-by-minute diary of Adriano Pierconti in 1903. Nonetheless, the picturesque tale of the hammer is transferred from one book to the next by author after author, with appropriate imaginative embellishments.

Similarly, Josef Schmidlin and Anton de Waal, Life of His Holiness Pope Pius X (New York 1904) state (p. 120):

Many of the accounts of the proceedings at the death of the Holy Father have said that the Cardinal Camerlengo, standing at the door of the death chamber, called the Holy Father three times by name, and, receiving no response, then tapped the head of the dead Pontiff three times with a silver hammer.  This symbolic ceremony was not observed at the death of Leo XIII., nor at the death of Pius IX.


The Rogito of July 21, 1903, reads as follows (Pierconti, 235-239):

Die XXI mensis Julii anno MCMIII


Cum Sanctissimus Dominus noster Leo divina Providentia Papa XIII sicut Altissimo placuit circa horam IV post meridiem heri in Palatio Apostolico Vaticano debitum naturae persolverit, E.mus ac R.mus Dominus S.R.E Cardinalis Camerarius, associatus ab Ill.mis et R.mis DD. Camerae Apostolicae Clericis et Cameralibus, meque Collegii Protonotariorum Apostolicorum Decano, se contulit ad Appartamentum Pontificium dicti Palatii, et ingressus una cum omnibus supradictis in cubiculo dicti Pontificis, ibi corpus ipsiusmet Pontificis adhuc in suo lecto existens exanimatum invenit. Eique debitis reverentiis et pro Eius anima precibus effusis, Annulum deinde Piscatorium sibi tradendum petiit ab et Domino Caietano Bisleti Praefecto dicti cubiculi, qui illico et continenter Annulum praedictum, per eum ex quadam bursa sumptum, praeladato et D. Cardinali Camerario tradidit et consignavit, quem idem E.mus et R.mus Dominus accepit ad effectum deferendi in prima proxima congregatione E.morum et R.morum DD. S.R.E. Cardinalium, deque illo dictum Ill.mum et R.mum D. Praefectum cubiculi praesentem quietavit in forma et omni, etc.

Successive praeladatus E.mus ac R.mus Dominus Cardinalis mandavit confici inventarium cubiculi praedicti et mansionum dicti Palatii cum interventu illius et illorum R.morum Clericorum Rev. Camerae Apostolicae qui ad it deputatu fuerint.


Actum in praedicto cubiculo praesentibus uti testibus:

A. Card. Oreglia a S. Stefano, S. R. E. Camerarius.

Joseph Giustiniani, Decanus S. R. E.

Salvator Talamo, Clericus Cam. Apost.

Joseph de Bisogno, Clericus Cam. Apost.

Pacificus Pierantonelli, Clericus Cam. Apost.

Joannes M. Zonchi, Clericus R. Cam. Apost.

Aloisius Pericili, Auditor G.lis R. Camerae.

Scipione Farelli, Segretario e Cancelliere della R.C.A.

Caietanus Bisleti, Magister ad missionem Sanctitati Suae.

Aloisius Misciatelli, a Secretis, testis.

Richardus Sanz de Samper, a Secretis, testis.

Raphael scapinelli, Cubic a Secretis, testis.

Current Regulations

In 2009, the activities of the Cardinal Camerlengo are governed by the Apostolic Constitutions Pastor Bonus (June 28, 1988):

Article 171 § 1. The Apostolic Camera, presided over by the Cardinal Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, assisted by the Vice-Camerlengo and the other prelates of the Camera, chiefly exercises the functions assigned to it by the special law on the vacancy of the Apostolic See.

§ 2. When the Apostolic See falls vacant, it is the right and the duty of the Cardinal Camerlengo of the Holy Roman Church, personally or through his delegate, to request reports from all the administrations dependent on the Holy See on their patrimonial and economic status as well as information on any extraordinary business that may at that time be under way, and, from the Prefecture for the Economic Affairs of the Holy See he shall request a financial statement on income and expenditures of the previous year and the budgetary estimates for the following year. He is obliged to submit these reports and estimates to the College of Cardinals.

and Universi Dominici Gregis (February 22, 1996)

7. The Particular Congregation is made up of the Cardinal Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church and three Cardinals, one from each Order, chosen by lot from among the Cardinal electors already present in Rome. The office of these Cardinals, called Assistants, ceases at the conclusion of the third full day, and their place is taken by others, also chosen by lot and having the same term of office, also after the election has begun....

8. The Particular Congregations are to deal only with questions of lesser importance which arise on a daily basis or from time to time. But should there arise more serious questions deserving fuller examination, these must be submitted to the General Congregation. Moreover, anything decided, resolved or refused in one Particular Congregation cannot be revoked, altered or granted in another; the right to do this belongs solely to the General Congregation, and by a majority vote.

14. According to the provisions of Article 6 of the Apostolic Constitution Pastor Bonus, at the death of the Pope all the heads of the Dicasteries of the Roman Curia — the Cardinal Secretary of State and the Cardinal Prefects, the Archbishop Presidents, together with the members of those Dicasteries — cease to exercise their office. An exception is made for the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church and the Major Penitentiary, who continue to exercise their ordinary functions, submitting to the College of Cardinals matters that would have had to be referred to the Supreme Pontiff.

17. As soon as he is informed of the death of the Supreme Pontiff, the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church must officially ascertain the Pope's death, in the presence of the Master of Papal Liturgical Celebrations, of the Cleric Prelates of the Apostolic Camera and of the Secretary and Chancellor of the same; the latter shall draw up the official death certificate. The Camerlengo must also place seals on the Pope's study and bedroom, making provision that the personnel who ordinarily reside in the private apartment can remain there until after the burial of the Pope, at which time the entire papal apartment will be sealed; he must notify the Cardinal Vicar for Rome of the Pope's death, whereupon the latter shall inform the People of Rome by a special announcement; he shall notify the Cardinal Archpriest of the Vatican Basilica; he shall take possession of the Apostolic Palace in the Vatican and, either in person or through a delegate, of the Palaces of the Lateran and of Castel Gandolfo, and exercise custody and administration of the same; he shall determine, after consulting the heads of the three Orders of Cardinals, all matters concerning the Pope's burial, unless during his lifetime the latter had made known his wishes in this regard; and he shall deal, in the name of and with the consent of the College of Cardinals, with all matters that circumstances suggest for safeguarding the rights of the Apostolic See and for its proper administration. During the vacancy of the Apostolic See, the Camerlengo of Holy Roman Church has the duty of safeguarding and administering the goods and temporal rights of the Holy See, with the help of the three Cardinal Assistants, having sought the views of the College of Cardinals, once only for less important matters, and on each occasion when more serious matters arise.



Girolamo Lunadoro [Gregorio Leti], Relatione della Corte di Roma, e de' Riti che si osservano in esta, suoi Magistrati, Officii, e loro giurisdittione (Genoa: Il Calenzani 1656), 318-320.   Jean Aymon, Tableau de la cour de Rome seconde edition (La Haye: Jean Neaulme, 1726).   A. J. J. F. Haine, De la cour romain (Louvain 1859). 181-188. Gaetano Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Volume 53 (Venezia 1851), s.v. 'Pio VII'.   William Cornwallis Cartwright, On the Constitution of Papal Conclaves (Edinburgh 1878).   Hartwell de la Garde Grissell, Sede Vacante, being a Diary written during the Conclave of 1903, with additional Notes on the Accession and Coronation of Pius X (Oxford and London: James Parker and Co. 1903). Adriano Pierconti, Da Leone XIII a Pio X. Diario del giorno 3 Luglio al 9 Agosto 1903, con documenti inediti (Roma: Cooperativa Poligrafica Editrice 1904).

Earlier papal legislation: Urban V, Consititution Apostolatus officium, October 12, 1363 Bullarum Diplomatum et Privilegiorum Sanctorum Romanorum Pontificum IV (Turin 1859), pp. 520-522; Urban VI, Constitution Apostolicae Camerae, September 8, 1379: Bullarum IV pp. 581-582.  Sixtus IV, Constitution  Etsi de cunctarum, June 30, 1480,  Laerzio Cherubini Magnum Bullarium Romanum  editio novissima Tomus Primus (Lugduni: 1692),  pp. 435-437.

Adolf Gottlob, Aus der Camera Apostolica des 15. Jahrhunderts. Ein Beitrag zur Geschichte des päpstlichen Finanzwesens und des endenden Mittelalters (Innsbruck 1889). F. Miltenberger, "Versuch einer Neuordnung der päpstlichen Kammer in den ersten Regierungsjahrung Martins V," Römische Quartalschrift 8 (1894) 393-450.   Hugo Laemmer, Zur Kirchengeschichte des sechszehnten und siebenzehnten Jahrhunderts (Freiburg im Breisgau 1863) 136-137 #2 (Codex Corsiniana 43 fol. 11: new regulations of 1559).

Master of Ceremonies Domenico Cappelli: G. Moroni, Dizionario di erudizione storico-ecclesiastica Vol. 41 (Venezia 1846), 167 and 179.


April 7, 2016 3:12 PM

John Paul Adams, CSUN

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