Suspense mounts as 115 cardinals locked inside the Sistine Chapel begin the conclave, a secret papal election with no clear frontrunner to steer the Catholic world through troubled waters after Benedict XVI's historic resignation.
Latest19.55 (18.55) John Bingham on the mood in the square as the smoke goes up:
Just as people were starting to doubt we would see smoke tonight, it is gushing out of the chimney.
Whatever they have put in it this time there can be doubt about the colour. An initial burst of excitement in the crowd quickly turned into a chorus of 'no' as it was clear there will be no Pope tonight.
Meanwhile a handful of devout people are kneeling on the wet cobbles deep in prayer with tourists mingling all around them chatting about their holiday plans.19.50 (18.50) The cardinals will now retire to their hotel for the evening, where the discussions and power bloc building are likely to continue. The deep blackness of the smoke has been winning plaudits, especially compared to the slightly ambiguous dark grey smoke of 2005.
19.47 (18.47) So voting is done for the day and the ballots are currently aflame. We don't know what's happened inside but the expectation is that the field will have narrowed to a handful of candidates now. Tomorrow morning there will be two more rounds of ballots and we're expecting the next smoke signal at around midday in Rome.
19.45 (18.45) Black smoke - the first day of the conclave ends without a new leader of the Roman Catholic Church being chosen.
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: Matthew Keys - Black smoke; no pope.&lt;/noframe&gt;
19.35 (18.35) Nick Squires has a little more on the world's most watched chimney:
The most famous chimney in the world is a humble affair. It consists of a length of copper tubing, fastened into place by wires on the tiled roof of the Sistine Chapel. It is dark in Rome now so the chimney has a spotlight on it so that the crowds below can see the smoke that will emerge. A shot of the chimney is being relayed to four massive screens in St Peter's Square. Despite the cold and damp, there is a festival atmosphere. Everybody is looking at the screens - Australian tourists, American priests, Japanese students, Carabinieri officers in their dark blue uniforms. Nuns are praying. Everyone has an umbrella.
19.25 (18.25) No one wants a long wait but it would be a bit of a shame if the suspense ended as quickly as it did in 1503.
Before 1274, there were times when a pope was elected the same day as the death of his predecessor. After that, however, the church decided to wait at least 10 days before the first vote; later that was stretched to 15 days to give all cardinals time to get to Rome.
The quickest conclave observing the 10-day wait rule appears to have been the 1503 election of Julius II, who was elected in just a few hours, according to Vatican historian Ambrogio Piazzoni.
19.10 (18.10) John Bingham sends this picture of the Vatican's temporary press centre where thousands of journalists from around the world are waiting for the papal smoke.
18.54 (17.54) Our blogs editor, Damian Thompson, asks whether the election inside the cloistered hall should be see in terms of Rome v Reform, rather than progressives v conservatives.
Seasoned Rome-watcher Phil Lawler reckons the conclave will reflect "the clash between two incompatible visions of how the Catholic Church should present herself to the world". It's not about liturgy, theology or politics: it's about the Roman culture of secrecy that Sodano, Bertone and the old guard in the curia did so little to dismantle, despite the urgings of Pope Benedict. That culture enabled child abusers to escape justice and punished senior clergy who called for fundamental reform of a sleepy and malignant bureaucracy.
18.30 (17.30) So now we wait. Hopefully not as long as the poor people holding out for the outcome of the 1268 conclave, which took 33 months to reach a decision.
Pope Gregory X was elected pope, but not before residents of Viterbo, north of Rome, tore the roof off the building where the cardinals were staying and restricted their meals to bread and water to make them hurry up.
Hoping to avoid a repeat, Gregory decreed in 1274 that cardinals would only get one meal a day if the conclave stretched beyond three days, and served bread, water and wine if it went beyond eight.
18.01 (17.01) The Associated Press has just released a piece on the bookies' favourites for Pope in which the American news agency describes us as "betting-mad Britain". Ahem.
Tim Stanley's "safe bet" Cardinal Angelo Scola of Milan seems to be leading the pack right now. Cardinals Turkson, Arinze and Scherer are all still in the mix, however.
The long-shots include Bono (1,000-1), Mario Balotelli (2,500-1) and Justin Bieber (10,000-1). Of course, if Justin Bieber became Pope, the Catholic Church would drastically increase its number of Beliebers *ba-boom*.
17.52 (16.52) This is it, we are now officially on Smoke Watch. John Bingham writes in:
With a loud thud, the door of the Sistine Chapel has slammed closed on the 115 Cardinals chosing the next Pope. Despite the secrecy, it does feel a little like they have gone into the Big Brother House.
In St Peter's Square a few optimistic souls, huddling under umbrellas and rain capes, have bagged the best spots at the front for a gimpse of the smoke when it goes up.
After a rule change under Pope Benedict (removing the possibility of electing a Pope with a simple majority) the process could take longer than last time. But most people are still expecting white smoke in the next few days.
People watch the start of the conclave on a giant screen at St Peter's Square. Picture: AFP
A cardinal places his hands on the Gospel to 'promise pledge and swear' to keep the oath of secrecy after entering the Sistine Chapel. Picture: AP
17.45 (16.45) Elsewhere on Twitter, our Telegraph readers are starting to weigh in with their own conclave facts and predictions.
So far it seems that you believe that Marc Ouellet, the cardinal that our blogger Tim Stanley described as his personal favourite, may well be the one to replace Benedict:
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: Claudia Wardle - &lt;a href="http://www.twitter.com/SarahTitterton" target="_blank"&gt;@SarahTitterton&lt;/a&gt; Marc Ouellet&lt;/noframe&gt;
While reader Marlene Koenig, an academic, tweets some more conclave facts:
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: Marlene Koenig - &lt;a href="http://www.twitter.com/SarahTitterton" target="_blank"&gt;@SarahTitterton&lt;/a&gt; Cardinal Sch&amp;ouml;nborn's mom is a countess as the Cardinal was born a count. If he gets it, he will be the first noble in ages&lt;/noframe&gt;
And one loyal reader writes in from the island paradise of Bermuda with a novel suggestion:
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: catherine hay - &lt;a href="http://www.twitter.com/SarahTitterton" target="_blank"&gt;@SarahTitterton&lt;/a&gt; with all of this continent-based clannishness why not a pope from the middle of the Atlantic! a Bermudian pope! perfetto!&lt;/noframe&gt;
Indeed, Ms Hay, indeed - and I have the perfect candidate.
Keep the tweets coming!
17.37 (16.37) The conclave is just minutes old but Sky News' Tim Marshall is all Poped out, it seems. Come on, Tim, the fun is only just beginning! There could be three more years of Smoke Watch yet!
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: Tim Marshall - Dearly Beloved, here endeth todays lesson. As I've run out of cardinal facts. May your God go with you.&lt;/noframe&gt;
17.08 (16.08) John Bingham has an update for us from the Vatican City as the cardinals all queue up to take their vows of secrecy:
Among the unexpected results of the secrecy surrounding the conclave has been something of a communications meltdown. Medieval pageantry and 21st century technology are struggling to find a happy medium.
A false floor under the Sistine Chapel is fitted with anti-bugging devices and - it appears - mobile phone scramblers. The logic is obvious, several of the Cardinals are keen tweeters.
But it has caused havoc in the immediate area, with passers by straining for a signal.
Meanwhile the arrival of thousands of journalists have overloaded wifi services.
In keeping with the very modern conclave theme, professors at Notre Dame, the Catholic university in the US, have created a Spotify playlist for the ballot. As Time magazine notes, it includes "Ave Maria" but, sadly, not "Livin' on a Prayer".
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: TIME.com - LISTEN: Notre Dame professors have created a Spotify playlist for the papal conclave | &lt;a href="http://t.co/1mYrMILJbR" target="_blank"&gt;http://t.co/1mYrMILJbR&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/noframe&gt;
16.51 (15.51) And, as the cardinals take their vows of secrecy, a timely reminder of the challenges facing the Catholic Church has just been tweeted by a Reuters journalist:
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: Matthew Keys - Just in: Priest from Colombia arrested in California on suspicion of sexual battery, child molestation - &lt;a href="http://t.co/CXtP8UylDR" target="_blank"&gt;http://t.co/CXtP8UylDR&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/noframe&gt;
The cardinals' procession this afternoon. Picture: Reuters
16.36 (15.36) In answer to my burning question from several minutes ago, sources at the Vatican inform me that it currently gets dark in Italy at about 6pm... but there will be a spotlight on the chimney. They leave nothing to chance.
16.33 (15.33) The cardinals' procession into the Sistine Chapel to choose the next Pope has begun.
The Vatican has released a walkthrough of their journey.
Yes, it's unlikely. But we could.
Don't forget you can watch for the white smoke from the comfort of your own home right here at the Telegraph website - we're live streaming it for you.
We're also trying to answer the burning questions, such as the one I've just thought of: what time does it get dark in Italy right now? If a Pope is actually elected in this first ballot tonight, and the smoke goes up sometime between 8 and 9pm... will we see it in the dark?
It's not the most intellectual or theological of questions, I grant you, but I am seeking the answer anyway.
15.45 (14.45) With the cardinals still enjoying their afternoon siesta, let's take a look at some more conclave trivia. Amid all the predictions of the first black Pope or the first American Pope, the Associated Press has broken down the cardinals taking part in the conclave by continent.
EUROPE: 60 electors, or more than half the bloc. Italy alone claims 28, followed by Germany with six.
NORTH AMERICA: 14 electors, with 11 from the United States and three from Canada.
LATIN AMERICA: 19 electors. Brazil has the most with five.
AFRICA: 11 electors, with Nigeria counting two.
ASIA: 10 electors, with India counting five.
OCEANIA: One elector: Sydney Cardinal George Pell.
Needless to say, this isn't exactly representative of the actual geographical distribution of the world's Catholics. According to the BBC, by far the largest number of Catholics are found in Latin America:
LATIN AMERICA: 483m or 41.3 percent.
EUROPE: 277m or 23.7 percent.
AFRICA: 177m or 15.2 percent.
ASIA: 137m or 11.7 percent.
NORTH AMERICA: 85m or 7.3 percent.
OCEANIA: 9m or 0.8 percent.
15.35 (14.35) We're about an hour away from the moment the cardinals lock themselves inside the Sistine Chapel now - and I'm told that the slightly festival-like atmosphere in the Vatican has been dampened somewhat by a downpour.
14.43 (13.43) Telegraph blogger Tim Stanley has taken a punt at the papal race with these pen portraits of five men who might be Pope.
On Peter Turkson, potentially the first black Pope: "Perhaps his biggest flaw is that he so obviously wants the job – nothing undoes ambition faster than having the vulgarity to show it."
On Marc Ouellet, the French Canadian candidate: "Positioned somewhere between American and European culture and operating at the cutting edge of the culture war, he’s my personal favourite."
Regarding the colourful American, Timothy Dolan: "Asked what he thought of those tipping him for Pope, he replied, 'They're the ones who have been smoking marijuana'."
The social media-savvy Luis Antonio Tagle is a "fascinating mix of charisma and modernity. The Filipino is currently the second youngest cardinal in the world, he commutes to work every day by bicycle and he’s a social media guru; at 200,000 he has the most “likes” of cardinal on Facebook. Working against him is his age but also his habit of crying in public."
And finally, Angelo Scola "is probably going to be the next Pope... He’s the safe bet in every sense of the phrase."
Nuns sing hymns at the Vatican today. Picture: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images
14.10 (13.10) That elder statesman of US diplomacy, Dennis Rodman, has apparently flown to Rome in hopes of meeting the new Pope.
Rodman has told TMZ: "I want to be anywhere in the world that I'm needed ... I want to spread a message of peace and love throughout the world.
Look out, Catholic Church.
14.00 (13.00) The Pope's job has been listed on LinkedIn.
Criteria include celibacy and the ability to turn the other cheek. Candidates are warned that they must work Sundays and - and this is emphasised - the job is for life.
The job is open to all races and nationalities... unless you're a woman.
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: Jim Roberts - Advocates calling for women to be priests plan to release pink smoke in &lt;a href="http://search.twitter.com/search?q=Conclave" target="_blank"&gt;#Conclave&lt;/a&gt; protest. &lt;a href="http://t.co/6ZggyiUbKv" target="_blank"&gt;http://t.co/6ZggyiUbKv&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/noframe&gt;
13.25 (12.25) The mother of one of the cardinals has told Reuters that she really hopes her son will NOT become Pope, because if so she will never see him again.
Cardinal Christoph Schoenborn also won't be able to cope with the "bitchiness" of the Vatican, she said. Thanks, Mom. From Reuters:
The whole family is afraid that Christoph will be elected pope," Eleonore Schoenborn, 92, told the Kleine Zeitung newspaper in an interview printed on Tuesday as 115 Roman Catholic cardinals gathered in Rome to pick the new head of the Church.
Recalling Pope Benedict's farewell speech, which made clear that popes belonged entirely to the Church, she said her son's elevation would mean "it is over for me. Then I will not see Christoph ever again because I no longer have the strength to travel to Rome".
Schoenborn, 68, is often mentioned as a possible papal candidate...
He and his mother meet in Vienna for a couple weeks every year and Christoph calls her every Saturday, said Eleonore, who lives at the other end of the country in Vorarlberg province...
"Christoph would not be up to the bitchiness in the Vatican. The intrigues in Vienna are enough for him," she said, adding that he got really annoyed when people were dishonest.
Never fear, Mrs Schoenorn. Apparently Cardinal Schoenborn told his family before the conclave: "Don't get worked up. I certainly won't become pope."
13.01 (12.01) The cardinals may be taking a lunch break but we remain dedicated to Pope Watch here at the Telegraph. Here are some of the more irreverent Twitter reactions to the proceedings:
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: Bill Maher - Papal conclave has begun! So exciting, like the Oscars all over again- we all want to know:Who will win, and who's dress will he be wearing?&lt;/noframe&gt;
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: Grant Gallicho - A couple of Japanese tourists just asked us why all the media are at St. Peter's Square. "Is there a special event happening?" &lt;a href="http://search.twitter.com/search?q=conclave" target="_blank"&gt;#conclave&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/noframe&gt;
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: John Encarnacion - Papal conclave begins today. White smoke means new pope has been chosen. Black smoke of course means Smoke Monster/Man in Black is coming.&lt;/noframe&gt;
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: MichaelMathes - I was hoping for George-Ringo. MT &amp;ldquo;&lt;a href="http://www.twitter.com/kate_day" target="_blank"&gt;@kate_day&lt;/a&gt;: Whoever he is, the next pope is most likely to be called Leo, according to &lt;a href="http://www.twitter.com/TheEconomist" target="_blank"&gt;@TheEconomist&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/noframe&gt;
12.28 (11.28) John's also sent in a picture of the cardinals leaving St Peter's in a haze of flashbulbs. Now it's back to the hotel for lunch - and, presumably a rest - before they lock themselves inside the Sistine Chapel and the process of voting begins.
11.57 (10.57) The scene inside St Peter's sounds like it has taken on a bit of a carnival atmosphere. From John:
And they're off. As the mass ended all formality went out the window.
People have been clambering over seats lining the main aisle to watch the Cardinals process off. For one of them it's the last full public appearance before he becomes Pope.
All are looking very relaxed, some are laughing and waving. It is a bit like watching a group of Boy Scouts being waved off on a big adventure.
Cardinal Tagle of the Philippines stopped and shook a few hands as he passed.
11.47 (10.47) More on the colourful scene inside St Peter's from John Bingham. Is one allowed to kiss inside the basilica on the day the conclave is to begin? That seems... daring.
People are taking part in different ways. Those without seats are now kneeling on the marble floors, there is a young couple kissing between one of the arches.
Meanwhile at the back a man has taken a sketchbook out of his overcoat and is busy recording the moment in pencil.
An embarassed policeman has gone dashing for the front steps reaching into his cape to retrieve a mobile phone with a banging ringtone.
Cardinals in scarlet at this morning's Mass. Picture: Alamy
11.30 (10.30) Nick Squires has written extensively for us on the potential Popes - and, as he mentioned at 10.14, the papal race is wide open.
That never stopped a pundit from making a prediction, however. Nick tells us:
As the cardinals prepare to cast their first votes in the Sistine Chapel this afternoon, the Italian press reckon the front-runner is Angelo Scola, the archbishop of Milan, who can count on up to 50 votes.
Next comes Odilo Scherer, the archbishop of Sao Paolo in Brazil, with a guaranteed 15-18 votes, and then Timothy Dolan, the ebullient archbishop of New York with a penchant for peanut butter, who can count on 10-15 votes.
Other names in the frame are Sean O'Malley, the "Capuchin cardinal" from Boston, and Marc Ouellet, the French Canadian head of the Congregation for Bishops, a Vatican department.
But seasoned Vaticanistas warn against reading too much into any of this. Only the cardinals know how they will vote, there is likely to be great fluidity in the conclave, and the bar is a high one - to become Pope, a cardinal has to have two-thirds of the vote - that is, the unequivocal support of 77 of his brother "princes of the church".
11.08 (10.08) 21st century moment: isn't it strange to think that John Bingham is able to describe watching these centuries-old rituals to us in real time thanks to the magic of the web? Here's some more from inside St Peter's this morning:
There's a real sense of history in St Peter's. The formality was broken up by warm and sustained applause for ex-Pope Benedict during Cardinal Sodano's address. A little girl, about a year old, with her hair tied in a bunch, was less generous, bursting into tears as the Cardinal got going.
The famous accoustics only added to the echo when two loud claps of thunder intervened half-way through.
The mass liturgy is now under way, people mumbling responses and prayers in their own languages. The official side is multi-lingual too. There have been prayers in snippets of Swahili, Malayam, Portuguese, French and German.
11.00 (10.00) In case you (like me!) were planning your day around the conclave, here's a little look-ahead at what we can expect.
Right now, we're about halfway through this morning's Mass. After the service ends, the cardinals will return to their hotel - where they can still have contact with the outside world as, despite the excitement, the conclave still has not officially begun.
At 4.45pm in the Vatican (3.45 pm in the UK) the cardinal electors will head to the Vatican's Apostolic Palace, where they gather for prayer in the Pauline Chapel.
By 5.30 we will see them move in a procession, while singing and praying, from the Pauline Chapel to the Sistine Chapel. This is when things get secretive.
At 5.45pm, all those not having anything to do with the conclave leave the Sistine Chapel when the master of ceremonies intones "Extra Omnes" (all out) and the great doors of the frescoed chapel are shut. The conclave officially starts.
American Cardinals (L-R) Sean P. O'Malley, Keith O'Brien and Timothy M. Dolan board a bus to take them from the North American College to St. Peter's Basilica
Robes hang ready for use at the Sistine Chapel in advance of the conclave at the Vatican. Picture: Reuters
The cardinals will hold a few minutes of prayers and, by 6pm, they could even decide to hold a first vote.
This would take some time. Between 8 and 9pm, If they have voted, the ballots will be burned in one stove and flares burned in an electronic stove to produce the correct colour. The flues of the two stoves converge into one that emerges from the roof of the Sistine Chapel.
White smoke means a pope has been elected and black smoke means the vote is inconclusive.
If the cardinals take a first vote today, it is expected to be inconclusive because their is no frontrunner, meaning black smoke will emerge.
If no Pope has been elected, the cardinals will return to their residence by about 8.30pm, having dinner together at 9pm.
From Wednesday, the cardinals will vote as many as four times a day, twice in the morning and twice in the afternoon, until they have elected a new leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
If no one has been elected by Friday, the cardinals will hold a day of prayer and reflection on Saturday before resuming the voting.
10.51 (09.51) Nick Squires has a few more details on the Mass this morning. He tells us:
The special pre-conclave mass in St Peter's is being led by Cardinal Angelo Sodano, a former Vatican secretary of state and now the Dean of the College of Cardinals.
He told the packed basilica, including the 115 cardinals who will soon elect a successor to Benedict XVI: "We implore the Lord, that through the pastoral solicitude of the Cardinal Fathers, He may soon grant another Good Shepherd to his Holy Church."
He praised "the brilliant pontificate" of the beloved and venerable Benedict XVI, "the 265th successor to St Peter".
10.47 (09.47) Uh oh. Tweet from John:
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: John Bingham - As Cardinals hear sermon, loud rumble of thunder echoing in St Peter's. &lt;a href="http://search.twitter.com/search?q=conclave" target="_blank"&gt;#conclave&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/noframe&gt;
Could this be another heavenly sign that proceedings are being watched from above - such as when lightning struck St Peter's the evening that Benedict resigned? According to AFP, there has just been "thunderous applause" for Benedict at the Mass.
10.39 (09.39) John Bingham has some thoughts on the rather surreal nature of the proceedings this morning:
Strange to think one of these men is about to be elected Pope. As the Cardinal electors process up the aisle of St Peter's, their solemn expressions seem oddly out of place among the grinning faces of the faithful packed in, many waving cameras, mobile phones and iPads through a haze of incense.
First reading is in English, from the book of Isaiah, "he has sent me to bring good news to the poor". A subtle hint that it's time for a Third World Pope? One Cardinal smiling broadly and greeting people as he processed was Joao Braz de Aviz of Brazil.
&lt;noframe&gt;Twitter: John Bingham - Cardinal electors processing through St Peters, white mitres almost obscured by sea of iPhones and iPads &lt;a href="http://search.twitter.com/search?q=conclave" target="_blank"&gt;#conclave&lt;/a&gt;&lt;/noframe&gt;
He's also sent us a picture of his view from inside St Peter's this morning:
10.14 (09.14) Conclave Cams and Twitter bans aside, this conclave is unique in many ways. One of the main reasons for the suspense is that, despite the best efforts of analysts, no one has really been able to predict who will become the next Pope. The race is wide open, as Nick Squires points out:
The perils of trying to predict the conclave. An interesting piece, in English, from Corriere della Sera's blog on the Church's search for a new pontiff.
Main points - don't assume that cardinals of the same nationality vote together. Don't assume that previous conclaves will provide a guide to this one. Don't be fooled by media hype about an African/American/Latin American pope. In fact don't assume anything. Just sit back, enjoy the ride and wait for the white smoke.
10.08 (09.08) The cardinals are holding a final Mass this morning before sequestering themselves in the Sistine Chapel. The Telegraph's religion correspondent John Bingham is there, and he tells us:
It is standing room only inside St Peter's as the mass gets under way. The congregation is warming up with prayers and reciting rosaries.
It all seems sedate at the front among the rows of red and purple scull caps of the Cardinals and Archbishops.
At the sides and back people are scrabbling for a view. One hassled security man is being kept busy politely asking people not to climb over an offertory box. Two diminutive nuns have just been given a gentle ticking off.
It is a curious mix of liturgical chanting and camera phone clicks.
09.55 (08.55) The Telegraph's Rome correspondent Nick Squires is looking out on the scene from the Vatican press office this morning. He tells us:
There is a long queue outside St Peter's to get into the basilica for the special mass that precedes the start of the conclave - it is known as Pro Eligendo Papa, For electing the Pope.
Priests in black robes, nuns in grey habits, tourists from around the world, Romans, Catholic faithful and the simply curious are lining up in spring sunshine to enter the basilica.
Facing St Peter's is a huge stage built out of scaffolding, which gives TV crews from around the world a dramatic setting for their correspondents' live presentations.
A total of 5.600 journalists from dozens of countries are covering the conclave and the election of the new Pope.
Nick has also sent us a picture of his view this morning showing the scaffolding that's being erected for the world's press in front of St Peter's. This is where the Conclave Cams are based.
09.46 (08.46) Telegraph Foreign Editor David Munk is looking forward to today's pomp and circumstance.