Former Pope Benedict XVI was laid to rest with a funeral mass before thousands of mourners in St. Peter's Square Thursday, with Pope Francis presiding over the event and honoring his predecessor’s courage.
Thousands watched and mourned and bells tolled as pallbearers carried Benedict's cypress coffin from St. Peter's Basilica and placed it at the altar. Pope Benedict, born Joseph Ratzinger, died Dec. 31 at age 95.
Francis, wearing the crimson vestments, opened the Mass with a prayer.
"Holding fast to the Lord’s last words and to the witness of his entire life, we too, as an ecclesial community, want to follow in his steps and to commend our brother into the hands of the Father," Francis said at the end.
POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI FUNERAL MASS HELD IN SAINT PETER'S SQUARE, PRESIDED OVER BY POPE FRANCIS
A book of the Gospels was also placed open on the coffin and Benedict’s longtime secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, bent down and kissed it.
Heads of state and royalty, clergy, and thousands of people from around the world attended the ceremony, despite Benedict’s requests for simplicity.
Italy and Germany were uniquely invited to send official delegations, but leaders from other countries took the Vatican up on its offer and come in their "private capacity." The notable guests included several heads of state, at least four prime ministers and two delegations of royal representatives.
In addition, a host of patriarchs joined 125 cardinals in seats adjacent to the altar.
Many regular people traveled from Benedict’s native Bavaria and wore traditional dress, including boiled wool coats to guard against the morning chill.
The funeral ritual had some modifications from the traditional processions as Benedict was not a reigning pontiff when he died.
POPE EMERITUS BENEDICT XVI DEAD AT 95, VATICAN SAYS
Benedict is considered one of the 20th century’s greatest theologians and spent his lifetime upholding church doctrine. His singular, revolutionary act of retiring from the papacy — becoming the first pope in six centuries to do so — however, put him in the history books.
Benedict’s retirement lasted nearly 10 years and paved the way for the papacy to evaluate how a retired pope should live alongside a reigning one, as the situation was unprecedented.
In his remarks, Francis praised Benedict’s courage to step aside, saying it "opened the door" to allow future popes to do the same. The reigning pontiff previously shared he too has left written instructions outlining his resignation conditions.
POPE BENEDICT'S VISION OF CATHOLICISM, VATICAN II, AND THE FUTURE OF THE CHURCH ENDURE THROUGH HIS TEACHINGS
Authorities estimated some 100,000 would attend Benedict's funeral, Italian media reported. Some 200,000 people paid their respects during public viewings from Monday to Wednesday, the Vatican said.
Matteo Colonna, a 20-year-old seminarian from Teramo, Italy, said the funeral had personal resonance for him.
"The first spark of my vocation started under the pontificate of Benedict, but then it became even stronger under Pope Francis," Colonna said, sitting in prayer in St. Peter’s Square before the mass. "I see a continuity between these two popes and the fact that today Francis is celebrating the funeral in Benedict’s memory is an historical event."
POPE BENEDICT'S LAST WORDS, ACCORDING TO HIS BEDSIDE NURSE
Early Thursday the Vatican released the official history of Benedict's life, a short document in Latin that was also placed in a metal cylinder in his coffin. Coins and medallions minted during his papacy and his pallium stoles were also placed in the coffin.
The document highlighted Benedict's historic resignation, which he announced on Feb. 11, 2013.
As cardinal and pope, he passed sweeping church legislation and oversaw controversial revelations of abuse within the church my hundreds of its clergymen. Survivors still held the former pope responsible for the crisis.
Benedict’s final coffin will be placed in the crypt in the grottos underneath St. Peter’s Basilica, also the resting place of St. John Paul II, before it was moved upstairs.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.