Pope Benedict woke with his hair matted with blood after having a night-time fall during an official visit to Mexico last year, in an accident that contributed to his decision to step down, Vatican sources have revealed.
The incident left the 85-year-old Pontiff shaken, alarmed his doctors and precipitated his surprise decision to bring his eight-year-old papacy to a close.
It happened when the Pope got up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom while staying in the Mexican city of Leon.
He could not find a light switch and tripped, hitting his head against a wash basin.
When he woke in the morning his head and pillow were covered in blood. The injury was not serious but caused grave alarm among his retinue.
It did not come to public notice because the cut on his head was covered by the mitre, or skull cap, that he wore for ceremonies during the rest of the trip.
"On the morning of March 25, the last day in Leon, where we were staying in a religious residence, Benedict XVI woke up and his hair was matted with blood," a priest who was on the trip told 'La Stampa' newspaper.
"The Pope said he had banged against the sink a few hours before. He woke up to go to the bathroom, but as often happens when you wake up in the middle of the night in an unfamiliar place, he couldn't find the light switch so he was in pitch darkness.
"His pillow was covered in blood and there were a few drops on the floor."
The accident, although not serious, had worried the Pope's doctor, Patrizio Polisca, who reportedly told him: "You see, Holy Father, why I disapprove of these trips?"
Fr Federico Lombardi, the Vatican spokesman, confirmed yesterday that the accident happened but denied that it had any bearing on the Pope's decision to resign – the first Pontiff to step aside willingly since Celestine V in 1294.
It was "not relevant" to the historic resignation, he said.
The Pope, who will resign at 8pm local time on February 28, has said he will keep such a low profile during his retirement that he would be "hidden to the world".
"Even if I am withdrawing into prayer, I will always be close to all of you and I am sure that you will be close to me, even if I remain hidden to the world," he said to priests from the diocese of Rome.
The Vatican insists that there will be a clear break from the two papacies and that even though Benedict will live within the walls of the city state, he will not interfere in the affairs of his successor. (© Daily Telegraph, London)