The body of emeritus Pope Benedict XVI, his head propped up on a pair of crimson pillows, lay in St. Peter’s Basilica on Monday as thousands of people filed to pay tribute to the pontiff who shocked the world by retiring a decade ago.

At dawn, 10 white-gloved Papal Knights, lay attendants of pontiffs and papal houses, carried the body on a cloth-covered wooden stretcher down the central aisle of the gigantic basilica to its resting place in front of the main altar under the tower of Bernini. bronze canopy.

A Swiss Guard waved as the body was brought in through a side door after Benedict’s remains, placed in a van, were moved from the chapel on the monastery grounds where the increasingly frail 95-year-old former pontiff had died. Saturday. Tomorrow.

His former secretary, Archbishop Georg Gaenswein, and a handful of consecrated lay women who served in Benedict’s household, followed the van on foot in a silent procession toward the basilica.

Just after 9 a.m. (3 a.m. ET), the doors of the basilica opened so the public, some who had waited for hours in the pre-dawn humidity, could pay their respects to the late pontiff, who retired from the papacy. in 2013. becoming the first Pope to do so in 600 years.

Loyal and curious, the audience hurried down the central aisle to past the coffin after waiting in a mid-morning line that snaked around St. Peter’s Square.

Filippo Tuccio, 35, arrived from Venice on an overnight train to see Benedict’s body.

“I wanted to pay tribute to Benedict because he played such a key role in my life and upbringing. I got here around 7:30, after leaving Venice last night,» Tuccio said.

«When I was young I participated in the World Youth Days,» said the pilgrim, referring to the revelries of young faithful that are held periodically and attended by popes. Tuccio added that he had studied theology and «his pontificate of him accompanied me during my university years.»

“He was very important to me: because of who I am, my way of thinking, my values. That’s why he wanted to fire me today.»

The public display lasts 10 hours on Monday at St. Peter’s Basilica. Twelve hours of wake are scheduled for Tuesday and Wednesday before Thursday morning’s funeral, which will be presided over by Pope Francis, in St. Peter’s Square.

Security officials expected at least 25,000 people to pass by the body on the first day of the wake.

Marina Ferrante, 62, was among them. The Roman arrived an hour before the doors opened and she was thrilled when she explained why she had come.

“I think his main legacy was teaching us how to be free,” she said. «He had a special intelligence to say what was essential in his faith and that was contagious» to other faithful. «What I thought when he died was that I would like to be as free as he was.»

Although he ventured that the timid German churchman and theologian and the current Argentine-born pontiff had different temperaments, «I think there is a continuity between him and Pope Francis and anyone who understands the real relationship between them and Christ can see that,» Ferrante said. . .