Thick black smoke billowed from the Sistine Chapel's chimney on Tuesday, signaling an inconclusive first vote in the conclave to elect a new pope at a time of strife and scandal for the Roman Catholic Church.
Thousands of faithful huddled in St. Peter's Square to watch the smoke pour out of the narrow flue in the rain-laden gloom following a day rich in ritual and pageantry.
Earlier, after praying for divine guidance, the red-hatted cardinals took a solemn vow in Latin never to divulge any details of their deliberations. They then secluded themselves behind the chapel's heavy wooden doors.
No conclave in the modern era has chosen a pope on its first day, and some cardinals speculated this week that it might take four or five days to pick the man to replace Pope Benedict, 85, who unexpectedly abdicated last month.
The so-called "Princes of the Church" will spend the night in a Vatican hotel before returning to the frescoed Sistine Chapel at 9:30 a.m. (0830 GMT) on Wednesday to continue voting, with two rounds set for the morning and two for the afternoon.
Until they choose a new pontiff, their only communication with the outside world will be the smoke from the Chapel chimney - black when voting sessions end with no result and white when a pontiff is elected.
The crowd's excited cheers when the first puffs of smoke emerged swiftly turned to disappointed sighs when they saw that it was signaling no surprise early decision.
"I am on vacation and can't believe how lucky I am to be here at this moment," said Patricia Purdy, a retired teacher from New York, adding it was time for a younger pope.
"It would be good if he was young, so he can relate to younger people and bring them closer to the Church."