Bells tolled Thursday for the funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, the German theologian who made history by retiring, as thousands of mourners packed St. Peter’s Square for a rare requiem Mass of a dead pontiff presided over by a living one.
The faithful applauded as pallbearers carried Benedict’s cypress coffin out of the fog-shrouded St. Peter’s Basilica and rested it before the altar. With red-robed clergy looking on, Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, bent down and kissed a book of the Gospels that was left open on the coffin.
Heads of state and royalty, clergy from around the world and thousands of regular people flocked to the Vatican, despite Benedict’s requests for simplicity and official efforts to keep the first funeral for pope emeritus in modern times low-key.
Many hailed from Benedict’s native Bavaria and donned traditional dress, including boiled wool coats to guard against the morning chill.
He will go down in history for a singular, revolutionary act that changed the future of the papacy: He retired, the first pope in six centuries to do so.
Pope Francis has praised Benedict’s courage to step aside, saying it “opened the door” to other popes doing the same. Francis, for his part, recently said he has already left written instructions outlining the conditions in which he too would resign.
Only Italy and Germany were invited to send official delegations, but other heads of state and government took the Vatican up on its offer and come in their “private capacity.” They included several other heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two delegations of royal representatives.
Early Thursday the Vatican released the official history of Benedict’s life, a short document in Latin that was placed in a metal cylinder in his coffin before it was sealed, along with the coins and medallions minted during his papacy and his pallium stoles.
The funeral ritual itself is modeled on the code used for dead popes but with some modifications given Benedict was not a reigning pontiff when he died.