Former President George H.W. Bush Greets Mourners of Wife Barbara

Barbara Bush's body lies in repose as her husband greets mourners.

The former president asked to be taken to church where Barbara Bush's body lies in repose.

Former president George H.W. Bush, touched by thousands who came Friday to pay respect to his wife, made a surprise visit to the church where her body lies in repose.

The 41st president arrived in a wheelchair with his daughter, Dorothy, and gazed up at the rose-covered metal casket carrying the remains of Barbara Bush, his bride of 73 years.

A Secret Service agent turned Bush's wheelchair so that he faced the pews of St. Martin's Episcopal Church. The 93-year-old former president began shaking the hands of a steady stream of mourners who filed by.

Some 2,500 people came to the Houston church to honor the former first lady and the mother of former president George W. Bush. Public viewing began at noon and was scheduled to end at midnight.

Barbara Bush's funeral will be held Saturday morning. She died Tuesday at age 92 after declining to receive further medical care for congestive heart failure and other ailments.

Her husband had not planned to visit her viewing on Friday. A family spokesman said he decided at the last minute to go after watching a live video from the church showing the gathering crowd.

Bush stayed for about 15 minutes, smiling and gripping the hands of those who came.

St. Martin's pastor, the Rev. Russell Levenson Jr., described the last moments of Barbara Bush as she was surrounded by family.

"It was a lovely, gracious, tender, precious death," he told ABC News. "And we were all ... praying together, we were all with her. The president was holding her hand and we were all saying 'I love you.' And she slipped very gently from this life to the next."

Levenson will deliver Saturday's eulogy. He intends to focus on her beliefs, he said.

"My role is to lift up her faith, which was strong, which was abiding, which was real," he said.