I am in the queue to visit the tomb of Pope John Paul II. It is
ten oclock in the morning in Vatican City, nine days since
the funeral of Karol Woityla took place. Tripods and white tents
dot the roofs around St Peters Basilica, preparing for the
Conclave that will elect a new Pope in two days time. But the minds
of those around me are intent on honouring the old on this day.
I had taken the metro from the centre of Rome, squeezing into a
carriage with hundreds of tourists, pilgrims, clergy, and local
families. We breathed fresh air again as street sellers beckoned
us with umbrellas; despite the warm and sunny morning the weather
was due to change. The line to view the Popes resting place
in the crypt beneath St Peters Basilica wound its way from
Michelangelos Collonades, through the entrance hall of the
Basilica, down its side, before reaching steps underground. People
chatter pleasantly in the morning, with strengthening outpourings
of rain resisted by flourishes of freshly purchased umbrellas.
Not until we enter the crypt does a hush fall on the crowd, and
chatters turn to whispers. Down the narrow corridor lined with relics
camera flashes illuminate a turn in the path. A huge market was
already in evidence for those travelling to Rome exclusively for
Karol Woityla: stalls and postcard shops laboured under images of
the late Pope, some sold copies of his letters and books. The recent
mourning was definitely over, and the street merchandise recognised
the publics celebratory endorsement of the life he had led.
Banners were draped from city residences, Giovanni Pablo II:
Santo. I got the sense that a long era of devotion to the
late Polish Pontiff was only just beginning. A hush of respect and
anticipation bound the queue around the Vatican Grottos white
We pass the ornate resting places of his predecessors, and the
eloquently simple tomb of his neighbours, John Paul I and Paul VI.
There are 60 popes buried in the vast underground crypt, including
St. Peter. St. Peters Chapel faces directly the down the corridor,
meeting firstly the alcove containing the tomb of John Paul II.
This inlet contained Pope John XXIII until his beatification in
2001. He now lies in the Basilica above.
Two Nuns pray in a cordoned off area facing the tomb. I hear ushers
urging people to move on quickly, accommodating the swelling crowd
outside. My turn comes to witness. Even though I have read about
the tomb in advance I am quite struck by its simplicity: there is
a red oil lamp burning in front of a flat headstone, raising towards
the back. The formation reminds me of the moment the Popes
Coffin was held aloft for the last time on the steps of St Peters,
and offered towards the Funeral congregation. In the tomb a white
marble slab is inscribed in Latin: Joannes Paulus II, 1920-2005.
A small floral decoration at the rear of the area completes the
effect. I take my photograph and move on.