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Pope's visit marked by colourful parade

Hundreds of school pupils joined in colourful public celebrations of Pope Benedict's state visit today by taking part in the St Ninian's Day parade.

The parade celebrated the first man to be named a saint in Scotland in nearly 1,600 years.

Children were invited from the 14 schools across the country named after the saint, including Catholic, Episcopalian and non-denominational schools.

The parade was headed by hundreds of pipers and dozens of people dressed as historical characters as it made its way along the route through the capital.

The column travelled from Regent Road to Princes Street, where the pipers played at Highland Cathedral.

Historical characters, including St Columba, Mary Queen of Scots and John Knox, charted the history of Christianity in Scotland since the days of St Ninian.

The parade will benefit nominated charities Marie Curie Cancer Care and Mary's Meals.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien, the leader of the Roman Catholic Church in Scotland, announced the parade plan last month.

He said then: "In centuries gone by St Ninian's Day was always a great occasion for national celebration and charitable giving.

"We've now got a fabulous chance to resurrect that noble Scottish tradition by raising money for two wonderful charities."

Schoolchildren lined the start of the route opposite St Andrew's House, the Scottish Government headquarters, where a Vatican flag was flown in the Pope's honour.

Some children tried to orchestrate Mexican waves before the parade got under way, while others waved Saltires.

On the main shopping street, vendors sold flags and commemorative Pope scarves. Satellite vans clogged the side streets and camera crews jostled for position on the few vantage points.

Only the Princes Street Gardens side of the road was open for the procession - the other half was barricaded for crowds and to let the shops keep trading.

Flag poles along the street flew the blue and white Scottish colours and the yellow and white of the Vatican.

Crowds began to swell in bright but breezy weather during the morning, hoping to see the Popemobile when it followed the St Ninian's Day Parade.

The only vehicle not cleared from the street was a tram parked on the incomplete rails at the west end.

Organisers' early estimates were that 60,000 people had turned out in Edinburgh.

A Catholic Church source said there had been no prior plans for the Pope to wear the official St Ninian's Day Papal Visit tartan.

He said Cardinal O'Brien had "hidden scarfs in his own cassock" for the Pope in case he had not been allowed to take them inside Holyroodhouse.

The source said: "He hid them and then put them in the Popemobile."

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