The coat of arms of a cardinal are indicated
by a red galero (wide-brimmed hat) with 15
tassels on each side (the motto and escut-
cheon are proper to the individual cardinal).
A cardinal is a senior ecclesiastical official,
usually a bishop, of the Catholic Church.
They are collectively known as the College of
Cardinals, which as a body elects a new
pope. The duties of the cardinals include at-
tending the meetings of the College and mak-
ing themselves available individually or col-
lectively to the pope if he requests their
counsel. Most cardinals have additional du-
ties, such as leading a diocese or archdiocese
or running a department of the Roman Curia.
A cardinal’s other main function is elect-
ing the pope whenever, by death or resigna-
tion, the seat becomes vacant. In 1059, the
right of electing the pope was reserved to the
principal clergy of Rome and the bishops of
the seven suburbicarian sees. During the
sede vacante, the period between a pope’s
death and the election of his successor, the
day-to-day governance of the Church as a
whole is in the hands of the College of Car-
dinals. The right to enter the conclave of car-
dinals who elect the pope is now limited to
those not over 80 years old on the day of the
pope’s death or abdication.
The term "cardinal" at one time applied to
any priest permanently assigned or incardin-
ated to a church, or specifically to the seni-
or priest of an important church, based on
the Latin cardo (hinge), meaning "principal"
or "chief". The term was applied in this sense
as early as the ninth century to the priests of
the tituli (parishes) of the diocese of Rome.
In the twelfth century the practice of appoint-
ing ecclesiastics from outside Rome as car-
dinals began, with each of them being as-
signed a church in Rome as his titular
church, or being linked with one of the sub-
urbicarian dioceses, while still being incar-
dinated in a diocese other than Rome.
Pietro Ottoboni, the last Cardinal Nephew,
painted by Francesco Trevisani