VATICAN CITY—Pope Benedict XVI’s final hours as pontiff on Thursday were rich with symbolism that underlined the historic—and novel—nature of his resignation as leader of the Roman Catholic Church.
Benedict left the Vatican by helicopter for the papal residence of Castel Gandolfo near Rome, where he will live temporarily before moving back to an ex-nunnery inside the Vatican walls.
Here are a few key facts about the historic day:
Bells: The bells of St Peter’s Basilica rang out as Benedict left the Vatican for the last time as sovereign of the world’s smallest city state and leader of the 1.2-billion strong Catholic Church.
The bell of the Senatorial Palace on the Capitol—Rome city hall—rang out as he flew over the Italian capital, officially the pope’s diocese.
Last Tweet: The Vatican put out a final tweet on the 85-year-old pope’s Twitter account, which is now suspended until a new pope is elected.
Benedict, who made his Twitter debut in December, told his 1.5 million-plus Internet “followers” in English: “Thank you for your love and support.”
Last Remarks: Benedict came out onto the balcony of Castel Gandolfo to bid a final goodbye in what was his last public appearance as pontiff.
“I will no longer be pope but a simple pilgrim who is starting out on the last part of his pilgrimage,” he said.
Papal Guard: The Swiss Guards shut the imposing doors of Castel Gandolfo and left their posts to mark the exact moment Benedict stepped down.
The guards—a military corps that dates back to the 15th century—also changed from their colorful striped regalia into civilian clothes.
Vatican Flag: The Vatican’s yellow-and-white flag bearing the papal insignia was lowered over Castel Gandolfo as soon as Benedict was no longer pope.
Seals: Workers applied seals to the doors of the papal apartments in the Vatican in accordance with tradition, as well as to the private lift used to reach the apartments on the third floor of the Apostolic Palace.
Fisherman’s Ring: Benedict has entrusted his Fisherman’s Ring—a potent symbol of the papacy that is cast in gold for each new pope—to the “camerlengo” (chamberlain) cardinal who takes over Church affairs until a new pope is elected.
In a tradition first established to prevent forgeries of papal documents during the interim period known as the Sede Vacante (Vacant See), the camerlengo will score the signet ring with an “X” at the cardinals’ first meeting next week.