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The Queen met Pope Francis yesterday afternoon, making him the fifth Pope she has met in her lifetime and the fourth as monarch.
The Queen, 87, and the Duke of Edinburgh, 92, were greeted by the Pope not in the grandeur of the Apostolic Palace but at his study in the Paul VI Hall near his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae, for an afternoon audience lasting just under half an hour.
In her first overseas trip for three years, the Queen had lunch with Italy’s 88-year-old President, Giorgio Napolitano, who invited the royal couple to Rome in what Buckingham Palace described as an “informal” visit.
The Queen apologised to the Pope for arriving late and said: "Sorry to keep you waiting; we were having a very pleasant lunch with the president."
During the meeting the Queen and the Pope spoke together for 17 minutes with Francis presenting a gift for the Queen’s great-grandson Prince George – a small royal orb of a silver cross of Edward the Confessor set on lapis lazuli. He also gave the Queen and the Duke of Edinburgh a copy of the papal order extending the cult of Edward the Confessor, the eleventh-century king and English saint, and three gold medals of his pontificate. When receiving the latter the duke quipped: "It's the only gold medal I've ever won."
She and the Duke of Edinburgh gave Francis two signed, silver framed photos of themselves. The Queen joked when she presented Francis with the photographs, "I am afraid I have to give you photographs; it's inevitable."
She also presented the Pope with a hamper of gifts of produce from her estates which included a bottle of Balmoral whisky, handmade aromatherapy soaps, cider, a haunch of venison, a dozen eggs, apple juice, blackcurrant cordial, chutney, relish, quince jelly and shortbread.
A Vatican spokesman said the Pope would probably donate the produce to a charity for the poor in Rome.
Among those welcoming the Queen were English Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor; Cardinal Pietro Parolin, the Vatican’s Secretary of State; and his English secretary, Mgr Robert Murphy.
Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O’Connor is close to the Royal family and in 2002 became the first Archbishop of Westminster stay as a guest at the Queen’s Sandringham estate in Norfolk.
He described yesterday's encounter as "a most happy visit" and said the Edward the Confessor gift had thoughtfully symbolised a time when there had been "no break" between the monarchy and Rome.
The cardinal added that relations between Catholics and Anglicans had been helped by the Queen, the Supreme Governor of the Church of England, who he said "is a very good example of a Christian woman."
The Queen's reign, which has overlapped with seven popes, has seen a warming of relations between the British monarchy and the Catholic Church.
In 1951, while still Princess Elizabeth, she met Pius XII, and 10 years later she was received by John XXIII. She became the first British monarch to make a state visit to the Vatican in 1980, when she met Pope John Paul II, and two years later hosted him at Buckingham Palace during John Paul’s visit to Britain.
In 2010, the Queen welcomed Benedict XVI to the Palace of Holyroodhouse in Edinburgh at the start of his visit to the UK, the first with full state visit status. The Queen and Prince Philip are also due to make a three-day state visit to France in June.
Top: Both Pope and Queen wanted today's meeting to be informal. CNS/Reuters Above: the Queen with the Pope Emeritus in Scotland in 2010. Photo: CNS