When one pope dies or, in the rare case of Pope Benedict XVI, steps
down, the period before the selection of a new pope is called the
The Latin term sede vacante translates to “the seat is vacant.”
An example of a 1655 Sede Vacante piastra was recently sold at an
auction by Heritage Auctions of part of the Dr. Thomas F. Fitzgerald
Collection of Papal Coins, Medals and Paper Money. The sale closed May
31 and the Extremely Fine coin (with mount removed) realized $646.25,
including the 17.5 percent buyer’s fee.
The coin was struck at the Rome Mint, in the name of Antonio
Barberini, the cardinal serving as camerlengo, the papal secretary of
state, who is in charge of basic affairs following a Pope’s death. The
sede vacante period marked by this coin began Jan. 7, 1655, and
concluded on April 7, 1655.
The piastra is composed of .9166 fine silver and weighs 31.99 grams.
The obverse shows crossed keys below a canopy and above a shield,
recalling Jesus’ words to Peter — “I will give you the keys of the
kingdom.” The reverse shows “a radiant dove above a rain of flames,”
according to the catalog description.
For full auction results, visit the Heritage website.
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