Pope Francis I meets his predecessor

The new pontiff Francis I met his predecessor on Saturday 23 March in what is believed to be the first meeting between popes for over 600 years.

Francis, the first Latin American pope, arrived by helicopter at Castel Gandolfo, where Pope Emeritus Benedict has been staying since resigning the papacy in February, citing ill health.

Both men were dressed in white robes. They had lunch and talked in private, before praying together in the villa's private chapel, with Francis rejecting the offer of the papal prayer mat, saying, "No. We are brothers. We pray together."

Speculation has been rife on the details of their hand-over chats, but the scandal over documents showing corruption in the Roman Catholic Church leaked from the Vatican last year is likely to have figured.

No prior meeting between popes has been recorded.

In 1294 former hermit Celestine V resigned after five months as pope. Boniface VIII was elected days later, and had his predecessor imprisoned. Celestine was dead within a year.

Francis afterwards flew back to Rome where he will lead services to mark Easter week, one of the most important periods in the Catholic calendar, starting with the Palm Sunday Mass tomorrow and culminating in the Easter Sunday Mass and the Urbi et Orbi blessing next week.

Benedict will stay at the castle until April, when special living quarters are expected to be ready for him in the Vatican.

The papal conclave elected Cardinal Jorge Maria Bergoglio ten days ago. He named himself in honour of the 13th-century saint Francis of Assisi, and has pledged to make the Catholic Church a refuge for the poor and deprived.

Since being made pope he has introduced a number of subtle yet significant changes to the office.

He has eschewed the grand robes and red shoes favoured by Benedict, in favour of plain white robes and black shoes.

He has spurned many of the accoutrements of the papacy, rejecting a special car in favour of taking the bus with cardinals after being elected and refusing to greet guests from a raised throne, preferring instead to meet them on the same level.

He has also invited guests to his early morning mass, including cleaners and kitchen staff at the hotel where he is currently staying.