Thousands of Catholics paid their respects Monday to former pope Benedict XVI at the Vatican, at the start of three days of lying-in-state at St Peter’s Basilica before his funeral. They began queueing before dawn to view the German theologian’s body, which was transferred early Monday from the monastery in the Vatican grounds where he died Saturday aged 95. “I arrived at 6:00 am, it seemed normal to come and pay homage to him after all he did for the church,” said an Italian nun, sister Anna-Maria, near the front of the queue that snaked around the edge of the vast St Peter’s Square. Benedict led the Catholic Church for eight years before becoming the first pope in six centuries to step down in 2013, citing his declining and physical health. His successor Pope Francis will lead the funeral on Thursday in St Peter’s Square before his remains are placed in the tombs beneath the basilica. Benedict’s body was laid out Monday on a catafalque draped in gold fabric in front of the altar of the church, flanked by two Swiss Guards. Many of those filing past took pictures on their smartphones of the body, which was dressed in red papal mourning robes with a gold-edged mitre on his head, while some prayed or made the sign of the cross. “The atmosphere is very intimate,” Francesca Gabrielli, a pilgrim from Tuscany in central Italy, told AFP inside the basilica. She said Benedict was “a great pope, profound, unique”.