As a news and editorial photographer you learn to “expect the unexpected.” However, sometimes you still have to pinch yourself, as you look around and think “how did I end up here?”

One such occasion was covering the funeral of Pope John Paul II at the Vatican. With the ceremony attended by four kings, five queens, at least 70 national presidents and prime ministers, as well as tens of thousands of pilgrims and catholic faithful, it was obviously going to be the focus of the world’s press.

As always at the Vatican, the prime positions, usually the best viewpoints, are given out on a pool basis.  Selected photographers are allocated a space and then, that material is distributed.

Originally, I had planned the day to be amongst the thousands of faithful, jostling for a view of the Pope’s body as it emerged into St Peter’s Square carried by pall bearers. 

However, after all the photographers had taken their positions I was approached by an Italian colleague and the head of the Vatican Press office and was asked if I would do a particular position inside the Vatican. As they explained to me what was going to happen it began to dawn on me what a special position it was and the enormity of the honour.

Pope John Paul was to be carried from his private apartments, down the famous marble staircase of the  Scala Regia and along the bronze corridor processing through the symbolic Bronze Doors which are the main entrance to the Apostolic Palace and the papal apartments that by tradition are closed upon the death of a pontiff.

I was lead through the maze of doors and corridors by the head of the Vatican press office, a man of few words who simply gestured that the pope’s body will process past me. As I stood alone in the silent and vast resplendent corridor, as thousands waited outside to honour Pope John Paul, I nervously checked and double checked my camera settings and continually assessed the lighting. There was no margin for error on this historic occasion.

The hairs on my neck stood up, as thoughts and visions from my strict catholic schooling flooded back, as the sound of hundreds of voices singing echoed from the walls. Angelic looking altar boys in white cassocks lead the processions as dozens of priests swinging incense burners filled the air with aroma.  The ranks of clergy seemed endless as eventually, after what felt like an eternity, the Pope’s body was carried past me gently-closely protected by The Swiss Guard.

The procession exited the Bronze doors to the cheers of thousands of faithful seeing the Pope.

I found myself alone once again, in the now silent corridor giving me time to say to myself “well I never expected that!”

VATICAN CITY - APRIL 04: The body of Pope John Paul II makes its way through the Vatican along the stairs and corridor of the Bronze Door on April 4, 2005, Vatican City. The Pope's body made its way through thousands of mourners in St Peter's Square en route to the Basilica where it will lay in state until the funeral. (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

About Christopher Furlong

Chris Furlong has been a senior staff photographer with Getty Images  for over 10 years and is based in the North of England. After a career in the armed forces Chris studied in advertising and commercial photography but was soon drawn to the immediacy of photojournalism, news and location photography where his talent flourished. He relishes the challenge of capturing the variety of life and people in an unobtrusive style.

His work with Getty has varied from outlandish and eccentric festivities in middle England to the deserts of Africa, war in the volatile Middle East, the marriages of Asian royalty and the funerals of Pope John Paul II and Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat.

In his career he has worked for many of the leading international news agencies and newspapers covering every facet of news, documentary and sports  photography and has been honoured with over forty awards.

Chris was an official photographer for the IOC at the Vancouver and London Olympics, chosen for his unique style and ability to cover a variety of disciplines.

His work continues to appear globally in periodicals such as National Geographic, Time, Newsweek, Business Week, The New York Times , The Times, l’Espresso, Le Figaro, The Guardian, Stern and many more of the world’s leading printed and online publications.

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