The casket containing the mortal remains of Pope John Paul II has been exhumed ahead of his beatification this Sunday.
The brief ceremony of exhumation took place in the early hours of this morning in the grotto situated beneath the high altar of St. Peter’s Basilica.
The tomb of Pope John Paul was opened and his casket placed on a cart. The casket, however, remained unopened throughout and was covered with a large pall embroidered with gold.
Papal caskets are comprised of three components. The outside box is a wooden one, inside of that is a lead container, and the final casket--which contains the remains of the Pope--is also made of wood. Those present at the exhumation say the wooden outer layer of the casket had slightly deteriorated with age.
At 9a.m., prayers and the singing of the litany of saints were led by the cleric in charge of the basilica, Cardinal Angelo Comastri. Those joining him included Pope John Paul’s former private secretary, Cardinal Stanislaw Dziwisz, and the Vatican’s Secretary of State, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone.
Accompanied by the Swiss Guard and Vatican Gendarmerie, the coffin was then translated the short distance to the tomb of St. Peter. It will remain there until the early hours of Sunday morning when it will be transferred to the foot of the high altar in the basilica above. It is here that pilgrims will be able to pay homage to the late pontiff on Sunday and Monday.
After every pilgrim has had a chance to pray in front of the casket, the coffin will be taken to its final resting place in the chapel of St. Sebastian, which is situated next to Michelangelo’s Pieta near the basilica’s entrance.
Meanwhile, the large tombstone which has covered the late Pope’s grave for the past six years will be taken to the Polish city of Krakow where it will be placed in a new church dedicated to Blessed John Paul.