The body of Pope John Paul II has been carried into St Peter’s Basilica, where it has gone on public display. It was carried by 12 ushers who had served him in the Vatican and was flanked by Swiss Guards in ceremonial uniform.
The procession of cardinals, bishops and dignitaries made its way out of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace and into St Peter’s Square, packed with tens of thousands of people. The procession passed over the precise spot from where John Paul II had presided over his inaugural Mass in 1978. Crowds who had queued up for hours applauded when his body emerged into the square, a traditional sign of respect for the pontiff who died on Saturday at the age of 84.
Then the body was carried up the Basilica’s long, main aisle to the altar, preceded by monks carrying lit candles. Eduardo Martinez Somalo, the chamberlain or interim head of the Vatican, blessed the body with holy water and incense, as a choir chanted in Latin.
It has been confirmed that John Paul II will be buried under the Basilica, in accordance with Vatican tradition.
There had been speculation he might be laid to rest in his native Poland but his spokesman has said the pope never declared a preference.
The funeral will take place on Friday morning in a service attended by many world leaders including US President George W. Bush.
More people are expected to attend the open air mass than any other event in Vatican history.