CASTEL GANDOLOFO, Italy, Feb 28 (Reuters) - Pope Benedict ended his eight-year reign on Thursday, becoming the first pontiff in six centuries to resign instead of ruling for life.
The papacy became officially vacant at 8 p.m. (1900 GMT/2 p.m. ET) in keeping with the pope's wishes when he announced his decision to resign on Feb. 11.
The yellow and white papal flag was lowered and the Swiss Guard sentries withdrew from the entrance to the papal summer residence south of Rome as the massive wooden doors of the hilltop building were closed.
The pope flew there by helicopter less than three hours earlier.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella)