Pope Benedict's tomb opens to the public at the Vatican

The former pontiff died on December 31 at the age of 95

Prayers at the tomb of the late Pope Benedict XVI in the Vatican. EPA
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The tomb of Pope Benedict XVI has been opened to the public.

The former pontiff, who was the first pope in 600 years to resign, was buried on Thursday after a funeral in St Peter’s Square in Vatican City.

His tomb lies in the grottos under the basilica’s main floor, where the public can now visit after the Vatican opened up access to the site on Sunday.

He died on December 31 at the age of 95, in the Vatican monastery where he spent his final years.

On Thursday, his longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, imparted a final blessing after Benedict’s body, contained inside three coffins — the cypress one displayed in the square during the funeral presided over by Pope Francis, a zinc one and an outer one hewn from oak — were lowered into a space in the floor.

The remains were placed in the former tomb of Benedict’s predecessor, St John Paul II.

John Paul’s remains were moved up to a chapel on the main floor of the basilica after his 2011 beatification.

About 50,000 people attended Benedict’s funeral, after three days of the body’s lying in state in the basilica, an event which drew nearly 200,000 viewers.

The name of Benedict, the Catholic church’s 265th pontiff, was engraved on a white marble slab, the Vatican said.

The Vatican did not say whether Pope Francis had privately visited the completed tomb of Benedict before public viewing was permitted, or might do so at some other time

On Sunday morning, Francis was leading a ceremony for the baptism of 13 babies in the Sistine Chapel. The chapel, with a fresco by Michelangelo, is the traditional setting for baptisms, an event which closes the Vatican’s year-end ceremonies.

Pope Benedict XVI lies in state - in pictures

Later, greeting pilgrims and tourists gathered in St Peter’s Square for his Sunday noon blessing, Francis quoted from a 2008 homily by Benedict, in which the late pontiff spoke about salvation.

Drawing inspiration from his predecessor’s words, Francis said the faithful when judging others, including in the Catholic church, should apply not harshness but mercy, “sharing the wounds and the fragilities” and avoiding divisions.

Francis has been criticised in some quarters by those who favoured Benedict’s more conservative stance because his funeral homily made only a mere mention of the late pontiff. While Benedict and Francis had spoken of each other with respect, tension festered for years between loyalists of both men.

Benedict shocked the world on February 11, 2013, when he announced in Latin that he was resigning, telling cardinals he was too old and frail to lead an institution with more than 1.3 billion members.

His resignation created the extraordinary situation of having two “men in white” — Francis and Benedict — at the Vatican.

During his time as Pope, he alienated many Catholics with his staunch defence of traditional values and struggled to impose his authority on the church as it battled a string of crises, including over clerical sex abuse.

Benedict repeatedly apologised for the Church's failure to root out sexual abuse of children by members of the clergy and he was the first pope to take serious action against abuse.

Funeral of Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI - in pictures

But last year, an independent report in Germany claimed the pontiff had failed to take action in four abuse cases when he was Archbishop of Munich from 1977 to 1982.

He acknowledged in an emotional personal letter that errors had occurred and asked for forgiveness. His lawyers argued that he was not directly to blame.

Updated: January 08, 2023, 12:55 PM