Right here in today's "Council building", formerly a warehouse at the harbour, the only legitimate papal election north of the Alps took place in 1417. Not only cardinals participated in the election. This was also remarkable. With the dismissal or resignation of the three popes, the way was paved for a new papal election. New election procedures were also discussed. An unusual feature of the voting method: Besides the 23 cardinals, 30 representatives of the so-called "nationes" were also entitled to vote. Thus, the elected pope would be supported by the whole of Europe.

Secret Views Behind The Curtain

On November 8, 1417, the electors were individually picked up at their hostels, brought to the cathedral for mass, then to the warehouse, which was turned into a conclave building for the occasion. Each elector was advised to bring no more than two companions ("conclavists") with him. Then he had to make himself at home in one of the specially erected 56 cells. The warehouse was locked; windows were walled up. An onsite security force saw to it that no contact to the outside world was possible.

The election took place in writing, yet it was public. On the first ballot of November 10, no candidate achieved the necessary two-third majority. The result of the second ballot on November 11 hardly differed from the first. Then, the so-called "access" began: More and more people voted in favour of the Italian Oddo Colonna. Shortly before midday, he was unanimously elected as Pope Martin V.

Habemus Papam!

In those days, there was no white smoke informing the people of Constance about the successful papal election. Instead, a window of the warehouse opened and the long awaited call "habemus papam" rang out. Council chronicler Ulrich Richental wrote about myriads of songbirds, which were alleged to have landed on the roof of the warehouse thus indicating the presence of the Holy Spirit.

Besides Richental's chronicle, the diaries of papal electors as well as election reports still exist today. A lot of information on the secret conclave can be found in those writings.

The characteristic features of the election in Constance, namely the participation of the "nationes", a unanimous vote and the presence of the entire Church resulted in Oddo Colonna being accepted by the whole of Europe as unity pope Martin V. After 36 years, the schism was finally ended.