The papal conclave held from 31 July to 4 August 1903 saw the election of Cardinal Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto to become pope in succession to Leo XIII, who had died on 20 July after a 25-year-long pontificate. Some 62 cardinals participated in the balloting. Emperor Franz Joseph of Austria asserted the right claimed by certain Catholic rulers to veto a candidate for the papacy, blocking the election of the leading candidate, Cardinal Secretary of State Mariano Rampolla. Sarto was elected on the seventh ballot and took the name Pius X.

Papal conclave
July–August 1903
Dates and location
31 July – 4 August 1903
Sistine Chapel, Apostolic Palace,
Key officials
DeanLuigi Oreglia di Santo Stefano
Sub-deanSerafino Vannutelli
CamerlengoLuigi Oreglia di Santo Stefano
ProtopriestJosé Sebastião Neto
ProtodeaconLuigi Macchi
VetoedMariano Rampolla
Elected pope
Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto
Name taken: Pius X
← 1878
1914 →



The pontificate of Leo XIII came to an end on 20 July 1903 after 25 years, longer than any previous elected pope, except his predecessor Pius IX; together, they had reigned 57 years. While Pius had been a conservative reactionary, Leo had been seen as a liberal, certainly in comparison with his predecessor. As cardinals gathered, the key question was whether a pope would be chosen who would continue Leo's policies or return to the style of papacy of Pius IX.

Of the 64 cardinals, 62 participated,[1] the largest number to enter a conclave up until that time.[2] Luigi Oreglia di Santo Stefano was the only elector with previous experience of electing a pope.[3] Health prevented Michelangelo Celesia of Palermo from traveling and Patrick Francis Moran of Sydney was not expected before August 20.[2] The conclave included James Gibbons of Baltimore, who was the first American cardinal to participate in a papal conclave.



When the cardinals assembled in the Sistine Chapel, attention focused on Cardinal Secretary of State Mariano Rampolla, though cardinals from the German and Austro-Hungarian Empires preferred a candidate more closely aligned with their interests, which meant relatively hostile to France and republicanism and less supportive of the social justice advocacy of Leo XIII. They were persuaded that their first choice, Serafino Vannutelli, who had been a Vatican diplomat in Vienna, was not electable and settled on Girolamo Maria Gotti instead.

After a first day without balloting, the cardinals voted once each morning and once each afternoon. The first ballots were taken on the second day of the conclave, and that afternoon's ballot had 29 votes for Rampolla, 16 for Gotti, and 10 for Giuseppe Melchiorre Sarto, and others scattered.[4] Some of the Germans thought that Gotti's appeal was limited and decided to support Sarto as their best alternative to Rampolla, who otherwise appeared likely to win the two-thirds vote required, which was 42. As the cardinals were completing their third set of ballots on the morning of 2 August, Cardinal Jan Puzyna de Kosielsko, the Prince-Bishop of Kraków and a subject of Austria-Hungary, acting on instructions from Franz Joseph, Emperor of Austria, exercised the Emperor's right of jus exclusivae, that is, to veto one candidate.[note 1] At first there were objections and some cardinals wanted to ignore the Emperor's communication. Then Rampolla called it "an affront to the dignity of the Sacred College" but withdrew himself from consideration saying that "with regard to my humble person, I declare that nothing could be more honorable, nothing more agreeable could have happened." Nevertheless the third ballot showed no change in support for Rampolla, still with 29 votes, while the next two candidates had switched positions, with 21 for Sarto and 9 for Gotti. Several cardinals later wrote of their disgust at the Emperor's intervention, one writing that it left a "great, painful impression on all".

The afternoon tested the remaining sympathy for Rampolla, who gained a single vote, while Sarto had 24 and Gotti fell to 3. The precise impact of the Emperor's intervention is difficult to assess, since Rampolla continued to have strong support for several ballots. Yet one contemporaneous assessment held that "After calm reflection, those who had voted for Rampolla up to this time had to consider that an election against the expressed wish of the Emperor of Austria would at once place the new Pope in a most unpleasant position."[7] The fifth ballot on the morning on the fourth day (3 August) showed Sarto leading with 27, Rampolla down to 24, and Gotti at 6, with a few still scattered. Sarto then announced that the cardinals should vote for someone else, that he did not have what was required of a pope. The movement toward Sarto continued in the afternoon: Sarto 35, Rampolla 16, Gotti 7. On the morning of 4 August, on the seventh ballot, the conclave elected Sarto with 50 votes, leaving 10 for Rampolla and 2 for Gotti.[8][9]

Before he was officially announced to the crowds, a priest got an inside tip that Sarto had been elected.[10] He climbed up to a spot where he could be seen by the crowd, and then open and closed two fingers to represent a pair of scissors.[10] This was understood by some to mean that Sarto, which means "tailor" in Italian, had been elected.[10]

Sarto took the name Pius X. Following the practice of his two immediate predecessors since the 1870 invasion of Rome, Pius X gave his first Urbi et Orbi blessing on a balcony facing into St. Peter's Basilica rather than facing the crowds outside, a symbolic representation of his opposition to Italian rule of Rome and his demand for a return of the Papal States to his authority.

End of the veto

Pope Pius X (1903–1914) wearing the 1834 Papal Tiara of Pope Gregory XVI

On 20 January 1904, less than six months after his election, Pius X issued the apostolic constitution Commissum Nobis[5] which prohibited the exercise of the jus exclusivae. Where previous popes had issued rules restricting outside influence on the cardinal electors, Pius used more thorough and detailed language, prohibiting not only the assertion of the right to veto but even the expression of "a simple desire" to that effect. He set automatic excommunication as the penalty for violating his strictures. He also required conclave participants to swear an oath to abide by these rules and not allow any influence by "lay powers of any grade or order".


Duration 4 days
Number of ballots 7
Electors 64
Absent 2
Present 62
Africa 0
Latin America 0
North America 1
Asia 0
Europe 61
Oceania 0
Mid-East 0
Italians 36
Veto used by Emperor Francis Joseph of Austria
against Mariano Rampolla del Tindaro
NEW POPE PIUS X (1903–1914)


  1. ^ Three leading Catholic heads of state claimed the jus exclusivae: the King of France, the King of Spain, and the Holy Roman Emperor. The Emperor never explained his reasons, but it was likely provoked by Rampolla's policies as Secretary of State, especially his attempt to seek a rapprochement with the anticlerical government of the French Third Republic as Secretary of State. The Italian government, which had no veto, also resented the policies of Rampolla, a southern Italian, toward their government dominated by northern Italian interests.[5][6]


  1. ^ a b Burkle-Young, Francis A. (2000). Papal Elections in the Age of Transition 1878-1922. Rowman & Littlefield. pp. 161–2. ISBN 0-7391-0114-5.
  2. ^ a b "Sixty-Two Cardinals in Rome for Conclave" (PDF). New York Times. 30 July 1903. Retrieved 15 November 2017.
  3. ^ Burkle-Young, Francis A. (2000). Papal Elections in the Age of Transition 1878-1922. Rowman & Littlefield. p. 72. ISBN 0-7391-0114-5.
  4. ^ Barrett, David V. (2 June 2014). "Ballot sheets from 1903 conclave to be sold at auction". Catholic Herald. Archived from the original on 25 June 2016. Retrieved 16 November 2017.
  5. ^ a b   Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Right of Exclusion". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Retrieved 15 November 2017
  6. ^ Walsh, Michael (2003). The Conclave: A Sometimes Secret and Occasionally Bloody History of Papal Elections. Sheed & Ward. p. 146. ISBN 9781461601814. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  7. ^ Schmidlin, Josef; de Waal, Anton (1904). Life of His Holiness Pope Pius X. Benziger Brothers. pp. 188. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  8. ^ Pham, John-Peter (2004). Heirs of the Fisherman: Behind the Scenes of Papal Death and Succession. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  9. ^ Schmidlin, Josef; de Waal, Anton (1904). Life of His Holiness Pope Pius X. Benziger Brothers. pp. 186ff. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
  10. ^ a b c Callahan, William R. (August 31, 1948). "Boston Pilgrims Recall Personal Contacts with Late Pope Pius X". The Boston Globe. p. 18. Retrieved September 4, 2023.
  11. ^ Schmidlin, Josef; de Waal, Anton (1904). Life of His Holiness Pope Pius X. Benziger Brothers. pp. 151ff. Retrieved 17 November 2017.
Additional sources