The Sistine Chapel was closed to the public as of 13.00 on Tuesday 5 March, in preparation for the upcoming conclave to elect a new pope, following the resignation of Benedict XVI on 28 February.
The announcement, which was made with little prior warning, came on the second day of the cardinals' pre-conclave meetings.
All but five of the 115 cardinal-electors have arrived in Rome. According to Vatican Radio the five yet to arrive are Cardinal Karl Lehmann of Mainz in Germany; Antonios Naguib, the Coptic Catholic Patriarch of Alexandria; Vietnam's Cardinal Pham Minh Man archbishop of Ho Chi Minh City; Hong Kong's Cardinal Tong Hon; Poland's Cardinal Kazimierz Nycz, archbishop of Warsaw.
Indonesian Cardinal Darmaatmadja absented himself from the conclave on health grounds while Scotland's Cardinal Keith O’Brien was forced to withdraw following the recent high-profile case which revealed that he had used “inappropriate behaviour” towards three priests and one ex-priest, an accusation he first denied and has subsequently admitted.
All of the cardinal-electors must be present in Rome before the date of the conclave can be set.