…playing with Fire.
This stunning picture recorded a few hours after the Holy Father’s resignation from the Holy See gives a ‘Dan Brown Novel’s take on proceedings. For those of you not familiar with Mr Brown’s Oeuvres, he writes mystery who-dunnits involving the Catholic Church on occasion – Angels and Demons and the Da Vinci Code spring to mind. As a teacher of physics, I am reminded that this is precisely what lightening rods are for – to permit a discharge through the metal spike of a strap of copper that runs from the ground to the highest point on the roof of a building. Electrons forming the static ‘venom’ build up in the heavens, and safely transmit them in one huge discharge to earth. For geeks amongst you, I am reliably informed that actually there is initially a discharge up to the clouds through the spike, ionising the air a little, which then promotes the fantastic firework spectacle seen in this picture. I am also advised we still have more work to do in this area of science. As both the Frenchman Denis Barbaret and the American Benjamin Franklin have previous in the area of flying kites close to the danger zone ’round about 1750, and we still don’t know what is going on, it’s my advice to stay away – because Fulminology is clearly quite hard. Not quite so difficult it must be said as managing the spiritual lives of the largest religion by far on the planet.
Pope Benedict XVI may very well have done absolutely nothing to incur this strike from the heavens, but it is a great juxtaposition between human action and an event of nature. Perhaps it has given a budding ‘Dan Brown’ a great idea for a best selling novel! For a period of time, the Church in Rome will be without a leader, as the 120 Cardinals (one rank lower, and those under 80 who are eligible to vote) gather in Conclave to vote. Now the older cardinals can still politic around, canvassing their own ideas, and twice a day, the vote will be held in the Sistine Chapel until there is a clear winner. Majority voting did come in, but in 2007, Pope Benedict passed a decree reverting back to the two-thirds plus one vote majority, thus encouraging cardinals to reach consensus, rather than one bloc backing a candidate with more than half the votes and then holding out for 12 days to ensure his election.
The ballot papers are burnt each time, producing black smoke; with a little help from its friends, the smoke turns white once the new Pope has been elected. And I can confirm that there is no link between the Lightening and the Smoke – unless you write it so!