The Pope is to resign his office after declaring he was too old to carry on as head of the Catholic Church.
Pope Benedict XVI will quit on February 28, the Vatican said today, adding the announcement was a surprise.
A Vatican statement said the pope was unable to continue in office due to his age and diminishing strength, he is 85, and the papacy will remain vacant until a successor is elected.
He is the first pontiff to resign in nearly 600 years. The decision sets the stage for a conclave to elect a new pope before the end of March.
The Pope announced his decision in Latin during a meeting of Vatican cardinals this morning.
Eileen Coles, of the Roman Catholic Press Office, said: "It is with great sadness that we learn that His Holiness has had to resign after an examination of conscience and taking into account matters of health."
More top news
That Was The Month That Was...
The family of a mother and son killed in a crash on the Sheppey Crossing say the road is dangerous - and warned that more people will die.
If you spotted a rather threatening looking tornado looming over your head today don't be alarmed.