For the first time in nearly 600 years, and for only the second time in history, the Pope has announced his resignation.

In a statement citing his advanced age, 85-year-old Pope Benedict XVI said he will resign beginning on February 28.

In the statement the Pope said he has considered the decision and due to his advance age, feels he is no longer suitable for the role.

“After having repeatedly examined my conscience before God, I have come to the certainty that my strengths, due to an advanced age, are no longer suited to an adequate exercise of the Petrine ministry,” the statement read.

With the Pope resigning it means his post will remain vacant until the secretive Conclave is formed and elects a new leader for the Catholic church. Initial reports from The Vatican indicate the next Pope will be chosen sometime before March.

“For this reason, and well aware of the seriousness of this act, with full freedom I declare that I renounce the ministry of Bishop of Rome, Successor of Saint Peter, entrusted to me by the Cardinals on 19 April 2005, in such a way, that as from 28 February 2013, at 20:00 hours, the See of Rome, the See of Saint Peter, will be vacant and a Conclave to elect the new Supreme Pontiff will have to be convoked by those whose competence it is.”

Benedict also took the opportunity to thank everyone for the opportunity and for all the support he received during his time as Pope.

“Dear Brothers, I thank you most sincerely for all the love and work with which you have supported me in my ministry and I ask pardon for all my defects. And now, let us entrust the Holy Church to the care of Our Supreme Pastor, Our Lord Jesus Christ, and implore his holy Mother Mary, so that she may assist the Cardinal Fathers with her maternal solicitude, in electing a new Supreme Pontiff.”

While priests have to retire at age 70 and bishops at age 75, popes are under normal circumstances, for life.

The last pope to resign was Pope Gregory XII in 1415.

To read the Pope’s full statement click here.