The body of Pope Paul VI was ceremonially borne into the Eternal City last night as the Roman Catholic Church began more than a week of rituals dating from the time of the Apostle Peter, the first pontiff.

The pope's body, in a simple wooden coffin, was carried in an unpretentious hearse the 15 miles from the papal summer palace at Castel Gandolfo in the Alban Hills to St. Peter's Basilica, where it will be entombed Saturday after a solemn high requiem Mass.

Pope Paul never engendered the affection that was shown his predecessor, Pope John XXIII, the public's "ilpapa simpathic." Nevertheless, thousands of persons crowded St. Peter's Square in front of the magnificent basilica to pay homage to the leader of 700 million Catholics.

Thousands more lined the broad avenues leading into the heart of Rome, some clapping respectfully as the heavily guarded motorcade passed, but few displaying the kind of emotion that marked the death of Pope John. While some fell to their knees and prayed, and others wept, most watched passively.

Surrounded by police motorcycles, the hearse bearing Pope Paul's body left Castel Gandolfo shortly before dusk, afte thousands of pilgrims had queued up at the papal palace to pay their respects to the dead prelate.

Many of them singing hymns and chanting the Ave Maria, the sowrshipers increased in number during the morning until the villa's gates were closed and the pope's body prepared for the journey to Rome.

Because of decomposition in a sweltering August heat wave, the body will be in a closed coffin when it lies in state Thursday and Friday.

The cortege included cars carrying the Pope's relatives and senior clerics, and as it moved away from Castel Ganolfo, small knots of spectators watched from alongside the new Apia Road. Picking up speed, it passed through virtually deserted country- side until it reached the outskirts of Rome, where onlookers lined the sidewalks.

In less than an hour, the procession reached the basilica of St. John Lateran, the cathedral of Rome, of which Pope Paul, like his predecessors, also served as Bishop. There, Ugo Cardinal Poletti, the Popes bishop, read De Profundis (Out of the Depths), a prayer for the dead, during a minutes-long service in a cobblestone square befor eseveral hundred onlookers. The Pope's coffin remained in the hearse.

From there, the procession wound its way, through Rome's streets - many nearly deserted in this vacation month.

It passed the Coliseum and the Piazza Venezia and went down the broad, treelined Corso Vittorio Emanuel. Crossing the Tiber River, the procession finally turned onto Via Della Concilliazione, the broad avenue that leads to St. Peter's Square.

At the square it stopped at the foot of the stone steps of the basilica. Twelve pallbearers lifted the coffin and, accompanied by the colorfully uniformed Swiss Guard, carried it into the Basilica to the sound of Gregorian chants within.

The coffin was escorted by rows of purple-robed bishops, and was met at the massive bronza doors to the nave by 40 cardinals dressed in bright red vestments and holding burning candles.

Within barricaded enclosures outside the basilica, mourners and casually curious tourists mingled, craning for a glimpse of the coffin. Scores of vendors were in the square, selling souvenirs, religious artifacts and picture postcards of Pope paul and Pope John.

The doors to the basilica will remain closed to the public until today, when public viewing will be held under the bronze canopy covering the papal altar of confessional. Until shortly before the funeral begins Saturday, the basilica is expected to be crowded with Romans, pilgrims and tourists.

On Saturday, about 25,000 invited mourners will crowd the basilica for the funeral. Cardinals will flank the high altar and the Sistine Choir will sing psalms and prayers specially chosen for the late pope.

[CBS and NBC will televise Saturday's rites live, with coverage beginning at noon. ABC does not plan live coverage.]

The Vatican expects about 90 foreign delegations to attend the Requiem Mass. The College of Cardinals will meet the various nations' permanent representatives to the Holy See tomorrow, and on Sunday the cardinals will receive the visiting delegations.

Rosalynn Carter, wife of the president, will head the United States delegation. David M. Walters, the Miami lawyer who serves as the U.S. representative to the Vatican, also will attend the funeral.

The United States has not had formal diplomatic ties to the Vatican since just before 1870, when the Catholic Church lost temporal power over Rome. Because of the unity of church and state in Vatican City, Congress passed a law in 1868 prohibiting appropriations for maintaining formal diplomatic relations here.

When Pope John XXIII died in 1963, there were 87 state delegations here, with then Vice President Lyndon B. Johnson and former Postmaster General James Farley representing the United States. Appearing at the subsequent coronation of Pope Paul VI were then Chief Justice Earl Warren and then Senate Majority Leader Mike Mansfield.

Immediately after the Saturday funeral mass, which vatican officials said would be essentially the same as that said for any Catholic, with some additional prayers, Pope Paul's body will be encased in three coffins and lowered into the crypt in the sacred grottos beneath the high papal altar.

Pope Paul selected the burial site in the small Donatello Chapel, named for a Florentine Renaissance sculptor, four years ago, after he had visited there often to pray alone. At his request, he will be buried under a simple stone slab with an inscription.

Only the pope's family and a few cardinals will be present in the grottos when the coffin is sealed in the crypt.