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First Time Pope’s Tomb Open for Public Viewing

On April 13, after the funeral and memorial mass has been held, the public was admitted for the first time to visit the so called Sacred Vatican Grottoes, where Pope John Paul II was buried Friday.
( [email protected] ) Apr 14, 2005 02:44 AM EDT

Just last week, tens of thousands of people jammed St. Peter’s Square and surrounding streets, waiting up to 24 hours in line for a last glimpse of the pope, who died on April 2.

Statistics released by the Vatican on Tuesday said an average of 21,000 people an hour, or 350 a minute, shuffled by the pope's open bier during the three-and-a-half-day viewing.

On April 13, after the funeral and memorial mass has been held, the public was admitted for the first time to visit the so called Sacred Vatican Grottoes, where Pope John Paul II was buried Friday.

John Paul was buried just a few steps from the chapel of St. Peter, believed to house the tomb of the apostle. The pope’s coffin lies directly in the ground, in accord with the instructions he left in his will, which was made public last week.

The coffin is covered by a gleaming white marble tombstone, engraved in gold lettering with his name in Latin, the dates of his papacy and the Chi-Rho symbol, an anagram of the first two letters of Christ in Greek that together stood for Christianity in the early church.

St. Peter's Basilica is one of the most visited religious shrines and tourist sites in Rome. To facilitate pilgrimages to the tomb of John Paul, whose grave is expected to draw large crowds because of his popularity, a special direct route to the grottoes bypassing the church has been marked out.

A resident, who came to Rome from Beijing with her family, told AP, "We're leaving today, so we were lucky to have seen his grave.”