In order to prepare for the upcoming Papal Conclave, the Vatican today closed the Sistine Chapel to visitors. As of 1 pm today, the chapel, famous for its renaissance frescoes, will be closed to the public until the process of choosing a new Pope has finished.
From the Vatican's statement:
In order to accommodate the forthcoming Conclave, the Sistine Chapel will remain closed to the public from 1 pm on Tuesday 5 March until further notice. During the same period, the Borgia Apartment and the Collection of Modern Religious Art will not be included in visits to the Vatican Museums.
The papal conclave is being convened in the wake of Pope Benedict XVI's resignation, the first such resignation since Pope Gregory XII in 1415. Benedict XVI cited his poor health as a reason for his resignation, saying, "both strength of mind and body are necessary, strength which in the last few months, has deteriorated in me to the extent that I have had to recognize my incapacity to adequately fulfill the ministry entrusted to me."
The Catholic Church's College of Cardinals will now meet to elect the next Pope, who also serves as the Bishop of Rome. The Cardinals will lock themselves away in the Sistine Chapel, the site of papal conclaves since 1878, and will remain there until the next Pope is chosen. A two-thirds majority vote of the Cardinals is required to elect a new Pope.
The beginning date of the papal conclave is still unknown, though Cardinals from around the world are arriving in the Vatican for the event.