Pope Benedict XVI is marking the solemn opening of the Catholic church's Lenten period with an Ash Wednesday service in an ancient Roman basilica.
The pope wore an ermine-trimmed crimson cloak in the chilly evening air as he walked in a short procession to St. Sabina's Basilica on the Aventine hill.
Then, in purple vestments representing the 40-day period of spiritual renewal and penitence to prepare for Easter, Benedict received a sprinkling of ash on his white hair from a cardinal. The 83-year-old pope then performed the same symbolic act, a reminder of mortality, on other prelates, monks and lay people while a choir chanted hymns.
The Lenten period culminates in Holy Week, including a nighttime Way of the Cross procession at the Colosseum.