When the gold-coloured casket of the man known as the last Godfather was carried into the church, a hush descended on the street outside: All that was heard was birdsong and the clicking shutters of dozens of cameras.
Both the media, and the police, were taking notice of a patriarch's passing.
The funeral for mob chieftain Nicolo Rizzuto unspooled amid the pizzerias and espresso bars of Montreal's Little Italy Monday like a Hollywood film, from the limousines piled with floral tributes, the mourners behind dark sunglasses and the less-than-discreet presence of police.
As church bells tolled, they marked not just the burial of a Canadian crime don. It was also the last rites for a famed crime family's power.
Mr. Rizzuto, the 86-year-old Mafia boss killed by a sharpshooter in his home last week, was laid to rest in the kind of spectacle that has replayed for Montreal crime figures with macabre regularity.
The pews of the ornate Church of the Madonna della Difesa were packed with mourners who had come to pay their respects: Young men in dark suits with slicked hair, grey-haired old-timers who knew Mr. Rizzuto in their Sicilian homeland, blonde women in stilettos clutching expensive purses.
It seemed as if widows and other women took front stage. Mr. Rizzuto's widow, Libertina, who mourned grandson Nick Jr. at the same church less than a year ago, looked on stone-faced. Some of her grandchildren were in attendance, but absent was the couple's son, Vito, who is locked up in a U.S. jail.
Theirs is a secretive world that, as always, tries to shield itself from outside eyes. Private security agents were plentiful. A Globe and Mail reporter who made her way into the church and took a seat before the start of the service was told firmly to leave, the message delivered by a man built like a refrigerator who wore an earpiece and black leather gloves. Even inside the church.
The Italian-language service was reportedly brief and simple, a reflection of the low-key and unglamorous figure cut by the nonetheless ruthless Mafia don. Outside, on the street, the event attracted a horde of reporters and hundreds of the merely curious. For several in the crowd, Mr. Rizzutto seemed to be deserving of sympathy.
"Why kill an 86-year-old man in front of his wife and daughter, like an animal?" asked Frank Santomassimo, who came by the church because he lives in the neighbourhood. "Yes, he had a price to pay. But they could have killed him elsewhere."
After the service, four elderly women, wearing cloth coats, stood on the sidewalk and said why they had come: "We are all paesanos," said one in a grey beret. "We came from the same place in Sicily. I am Catholic and I will pray for the whole family."
Some said they've known Mr. Rizzuto for decades, and regard him as a benevolent figure. "For me, he wasn't a criminal," said Alberto Pizzi, who described himself as an accountant who'd known Mr. Rizzuto for 40 years. "He was normal. We knew each other, respected each other."
Among those evicted from the funeral service was James Dubro, a Toronto-based crime writer who has written several books on the Mafia. He said the funeral marked the end of an era.
"This is a potent message that the family is finished," Mr. Dubro said on the street outside, which was closed off to traffic. "It also sends a message to Vito [Rizzuto]that his days are over. He's got to live in mortal danger, even in jail."
Mr. Dubro said chances are high that those behind the patriarch's murder come from inside the Mafia world, either within the Rizzuto clan or a rival Montreal family.
"Look who is left standing at the end of the violence, and you may have the killer," he said. "There are a number of lieutenants left - mid-level and senior level - in the Rizzuto family who are still around."
The funeral unfolded beneath the stirring figure of another infamous leader: Italian dictator Benito Mussolini, known as Il Duce. His likeness is painted on the ceiling above the church's altar, amid a vivid fresco of angels, in a tribute coinciding with the church's founding in 1918.
The day began under unusual circumstances. A black, shoebox-sized box adorned with a white cross was left on the church's front steps. It prompted police to temporarily cordon off the church as the box was carted away.
A police spokesman said a note was left inside, whose contents he would not disclose. But police response indicated the jittery atmosphere. "We were wondering what it was," said Constable Daniel Lacoursière, "and we didn't want to take any chances."Report Typo/Error