Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI has lost so much weight in the last few weeks that he appears to have shrunk to "half his previous size", according to a German cardinal who visited him.
Joachim Meisner, the Archbishop of Cologne, was shocked at how Benedict's health had deteriorated, saying he appeared to have physically shrunk.
The cardinal went to see Benedict on March 18, the day before Pope Francis was inaugurated as his successor.
At the time, Benedict was living in Castel Gandolfo, the papal summer residence outside Rome, having resigned from the Seat of St Peter on February 28.
"I was shocked at how thin he had become," the cardinal told the German Catholic News Agency.
"He looked like he had halved in size. At first I did not agree with his resignation. But when I saw him my reservations melted away. Mentally, however, he is quite fit, his old self."
The cardinal is not the first person to comment on the declining health of the 86-year-old former pope, who cited his ailing mental and physical strength as the reason for his resignation, the first of a pontiff since the Middle Ages.
Last month, an experienced Vatican analyst claimed that "we won't have him with us for very much longer".
Paloma Gomez Borerro, a veteran Vatican correspondent from Spain, claimed: "Benedict is in a very bad way. In the last 15 days he has undergone a tremendous physical deterioration."
Vatican insiders said her remarks were overly "alarmist", but conceded that in the last few months he had become weaker.
Last month his brother said that Benedict was "relieved" to no longer be pope.
He denied, however, that Benedict was suffering from any particular illness. (© Daily Telegraph, London)