Tens of thousands of people lined up outside St. Peter’s Basilica in Vatican City on Monday to pay last respects to Benedict XVI, the pope emeritus, who died on Saturday at age 95 and is now lying in state.
The long line — a mix of Roman Catholic faithful and tourists — moved steadily, snaking across the square in front of the basilica and along the street leading up to it under an overcast sky. The Vatican said Monday afternoon that at least 40,000 people passed through in the first five hours of the public viewing.
“I really wanted to give him a last goodbye,” said one mourner, Anna Angelini, 85, who, despite her poor health, had hitched a 90-minute ride with a neighbor from her home outside Rome. “This pope, I hold him in my heart,” she added.
Benedict led the world’s 1.3 billion Roman Catholics from 2005 to 2013. He stunned the world a decade ago when he announced that he would retire, the first pope to do so in some 600 years, citing his declining physical and mental state.
Inside St. Peter’s, Benedict rested on a simple dais in front of the main altar, dressed in traditional red and white garments, his hands crossed beneath a rosary. He did not have a pallium, the vestment symbolizing the authority of metropolitan archbishops, because it was “a symbol of jurisdiction which is normally not used for a retired prelate,” according to the Vatican website Vatican News. There were no other papal insignia or regalia, such as the silver staff with a crucifix.
Two Swiss Guards in their colorful uniforms stood at attention as mourners passed in front of the dais, some making the sign of the cross. The Swiss Guard protect the pope and his residence.
Luciano Ippoliti, a 61-year-old high-school teacher in Rome, knelt and crossed himself, keeping his eyes on the body as security guards urged mourners to proceed quickly.
“I said, ‘Thank you,’” Mr. Ippoliti said. “I owed it to him.”
The speed at which the line moved made prayers necessarily brief. A group of faithful recited the Lord’s Prayer by the pope’s body, some took photographs of Benedict, but also of the main apse and the transept of the basilica, with works by the Baroque architect Gian Lorenzo Bernini.
The frantic photographing inside the basilica disturbed some mourners.
“People taking pictures with the corpse is really outrageous,” said one woman in the line, Alessandra Erre, 49. “Selfies especially,” said her father, Gavino Erre.
Silvana D’Amore, 79, held her rosary as she advanced in the line below the basilica’s golden vault. She had taken a bus from a town outside Rome to pay her respects to Benedict, who she said “is a dear person to me.”
“I prayed for him every day even when he became emeritus,” she said. “He always accompanied me.”
For the first 12 centuries of the church, popes were buried on the day they died, usually in the evening, according to Agostino Paravicini Bagliani, a historian and expert in papal history. That changed with the death of Innocent III, who died in 1216 and was the first pope to lie in state, Mr. Paravicini Bagliani said, citing an account of the time.
Rules promulgated in 1274 about the election of the pope (first put into practice two years later) determined that the voting could only take place 10 days after a pontiff’s death “and that prolonged the time of lying in state,” Mr. Paravicini Bagliani said, even though popes were still normally buried after three days.
Benedict’s body was taken to St. Peter’s before dawn on Monday morning from the monastery where he had lived, and it will remain there until his funeral on Thursday.
A video of the transfer provided by the Vatican showed a van carrying Benedict’s body followed by the handful of people who had assisted him in the last years of his life — among them his personal secretary and four laywomen — passing through the Vatican gardens to be greeted by a few dozen mourners at St. Peter’s Basilica.
By contrast, tens of thousands of mourners awaited the arrival of the corpse of John Paul II in April 2005 when he was moved to the basilica from his home in the Apostolic Palace. That procession included cardinals, Swiss Guards and candle-carrying monks. It is estimated that a million people visited the basilica during the four days that John Paul lay in state before his funeral.
On Saturday, Italian officials said that about 60,000 people were expected to attend Benedict’s funeral on Thursday, which will be officiated by Pope Francis. The only official delegations expected at the funeral will be from Germany, where Benedict was born and grew up, and from Italy, the Vatican said.
Benedict will be buried in the Vatican Grottoes, underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, the traditional resting place of popes. The burial will happen immediately after the funeral, and Benedict will be placed in the same niche where his predecessor John Paul II had been buried. John Paul’s body was moved after he was beatified in 2011, the penultimate step to being made a saint, which he became in 2013.
Some made long trips to come see Benedict’s body. Matteo Martelli, 36, a student nurse, traveled from Milan with his wife to say a last goodbye to Benedict, who they said they admired for his writings on faith and reason.
“That is what you do if a person who is dear to you passed away,” Mr. Martelli said. “It’s a reasonable thing to do it for love.”