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Pope John XXIII's coffin displayed in St Peter's Square

Crowds of pilgrims joined Pope John Paul II in St Peter's Square yesterday for their first glimpse at a see-through, bulletproof coffin holding the body of John XXIII.

Vatican workers had hurried to put final touches on the new resting place for John XXIII, whose well-preserved body was removed from the grottoes under St Peter's Basilica earlier this year part of preparations to give the late pontiff a resting place more accessible to admirers.

The special attention for John XXIII is an indication of the Vatican's enthusiasm for the pontiff's eventual sainthood. John Paul beatified John XXIII after the church certified a miracle attributed to his intercession.

Another such miracle is needed for sainthood, but observers believe the unusual state of preservation of his body is unlikely to qualify. When John's XXIII's three coffins were opened earlier this year, Vatican officials explicitly cautioned against calling it a miracle. Last week, they attributed it to good preservation techniques.

The dead Pope's face is covered by a wax mask put on earlier this year.

The Vatican offered no explanation as to why the Pope's body is being kept in an unbreakable, bulletproof glass coffin.