The audience inside the Apostolic Palace was as unique as Benedict's decision to quit. The pope, wearing his crimson velvet cape and using a cane, bade farewell to his closest advisers and the cardinals bowed to kiss his ring for the last time.
A few hours later, Benedict's closest aide, Monsignor Georg Gaenswein, wept by his side as they took their final walk down the marbled halls to the motorcade that took them to the helipad in the Vatican gardens.
As bells tolled in St. Peter's and in church towers across Rome, Benedict took off in a low-flying helicopter that circled St. Peter's Square, where banners reading "Thank You" were held skyward so he could see them, and then flew over the ruins of the ancient coliseum.
Benedict also reached out to the wider world electronically, sending a final tweet from his Twitter account, (at)Pontifex: "Thank you for your love and support. May you always experience the joy that comes from putting Christ at the centre of your lives."
Soon afterward, that tweet and all Benedict's previous ones were deleted and the profile was changed to read "Sede Vacante" — the See of Rome is vacant.
Then, as the clock struck 8 p.m., when Benedict's resignation took effect, two Swiss Guards standing at attention shut the thick wooden doors of Castel Gandolfo, symbolically closing out a papacy whose legacy will be most marked by the way it ended — a resignation instead of a death.
A Vatican official was then seen taking down the Holy See's white and yellow flag from the residence.
"We have the pope right here at home," said Anna Maria Togni, who walked two kilometers (one mile) from the outskirts of Castel Gandolfo to witness history. "We feel a tenderness toward him."
Benedict set his resignation in motion Feb. 11, when he announced that he no longer had the "strength of mind and body" do to the job. It was the first time that a pope had resigned since Pope Gregory XII stepped down in 1415 to help end a church schism.
In the weeks since Benedict's announcement, speculation has mounted whether other factors were to blame. By the time his final day came around, though, Benedict seemed perfectly serene with his decision.
The Vatican spokesman, the Rev. Federico Lombardi, said the pope's pledge to obey his successor was in keeping with his effort to "explain how he intends to live this unprecedented situation of an emeritus pope."
"He has no intention of interfering in the position or the decisions or the activity of his successor," Lombardi said. "But as every member of the church, he says fully that he recognizes the authority of the supreme pastor of the church who will be elected to succeed him."
The issue is important for Benedict. In his last legal document, he made new provisions for cardinals to make a formal, public pledge of obedience to the new pope at his installation Mass, in addition to the private one they traditionally make inside the Sistine Chapel immediately after he is elected.
The Rev. Thomas Reese, author of "Inside the Vatican," a guide to the Vatican bureaucracy, welcomed Benedict's own pledge, saying: "There is room in the church for only one pope, and his pledge of obedience shows that Benedict does not want to be used by anyone to undermine the authority of the new pope."
He said he would have preferred Benedict to go back to his given name and eschew the white robe of the papacy.
"Symbols are important in the church," he said.
Winfield reported from Vatican City.
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