Updated 03/09/2013 06:33 PM
Former Vatican City engineer designed smoke system that signals new pope's election
The chimney installed at the Sistine Chapel Saturday will allow observers to learn when a new pope is selected by releasing white smoke into the air. Vivian Lee spoke with the man who designed the smoke signal system in Vatican City.
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VATICAN CITY - Former Vatican City engineer Stefano Marino said seeing white smoke in 2005 gave him chills of relief.
"I was in the square when the last pope was elected," he said. "I was looking at the smoke with my friends, saying, 'Let's hope that it will be OK.'"
That year, Marino designed, tested and re-tested a box-like stove, which now sits in the Sistine Chapel.
He also created a mixture of vegetable-based chemicals that produces the white smoke, which tells the world that the cardinals have chosen a new pope.
Next to Marino's stove is the old stove, dating from 1939 and etched with the names of the five popes elected before Benedict. It's now used only to burn ballots and funnel the black smoke to the roof that signals "no pope yet."
How did Marino get the job of creating a new one?
"I was lucky, because somebody there knew me, what I was doing, and then, they said, 'Please come with us,'" he said. "Everything you do in the Vatican is important, because of the place, the clients, the cardinals, the pope."
His crowning achievement was designing the air system that regulates humidity and temperature in the Sistine Chapel, home to some of the western world's most important works of art by Michelangelo. But Romans know him as the "white-smoke" master.
"It's something very romantic," he said. "I was lucky, yes. I think I did something good. They still remember me, and I'm glad for that."
For the Catholic faithful, that legacy will live on as long as this smoky tradition does.