I keep coming across this story that when a Pope dies the chamberlain (or, in some versions, a cardinal) taps him on the head with a silver hammer to make sure he really is dead and not just in some private, deep communication with the Man With the White Beard. I’ve been wandering around all day, on and off, singing the Beatles’ song “Maxwell’s Silver Hammer” from their Abbey Road album. Because it’s such a catchy little number I even found myself at one point dancing with the cat1.
To paraphrase the lyrics very slightly the chorus goes like this:
Bang! Bang! Maxwell’s silver hammer
came down upon his head
Clang! Clang! Maxwell’s silver hammer
made sure that he was dead
Now, unfortunately, The Guardian has more or less shattered my illusion of a guy in a long red frock bashing someone over the head with a hammer2. According to The Vatican, the whole thing is a myth. On the other hand though, more or less everything The Vatican would have us believe is a myth so where’s the harm in one more?
1 Sad; really, really sad, I know
2 From time to time I’ve also had this vision in my head of an old Monty Python sketch being magically changed to include the line “Cardinal Fang! Fetch the Silver Hammer!”
Posted 3 April 2005, 15:42 BST