The Vatican says Pope Francis has paid a visit to the tomb of Peter, the church's first pontiff, who is buried beneath St. Peter's Basilica.

St. Peter's Basilica in The Vatican (Getty Images)

It says Francis became the first pontiff to visit the necropolis since excavations were done at the ancient site decades ago. The Vatican says the 45-minute visit was private, but officials later released a video of it.

According to a statement, Francis walked down the entire main street of the ancient city of the dead. The streets of the necropolis are similar to those of ancient Rome -- but they are flanked by tombs instead of by shops and apartments. Pagans as well as early Christians were buried there.

It was a sharp departure from how popes in past years have often spent the day after Easter. Those pontiffs would head to Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills, a short drive from Rome. But that retreat is currently occupied by Pope Benedict.

 

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