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Museum honours Swiss Papal Guards

Toy Swiss Guards on display at the museum in Naters

(Keystone)

Foreign Minister Micheline Calmy-Rey has inaugurated the first Swiss museum of the Papal Guards in the southern town of Naters.

Calmy-Rey hailed the members of the world's smallest army as a symbol of Switzerland's policy of active neutrality.

"Standing guard means to be active, ready and willing to contribute to the wellbeing of others," said the foreign minister in a speech on Saturday. She added that the guards represented the spirit of Switzerland how she perceived it.

Calmy-Rey recalled that Switzerland's policy of neutrality had begun almost at the same time as Swiss mercenaries entered the Vatican after Pope Julius had asked the Swiss authorities to provide him with a corps of 200 guardsmen.

She said neutrality was more than ever a commitment to be active and defend the country's interests. Switzerland could not afford to close its eyes in the face of the unpleasant aspects and risks in an interconnected world.

International humanitarian law, human rights and a policy of active neutrality are ways of preventing and settling conflicts, according to Calmy-Rey.

Fortress

The first permanent exhibition about the 500-year history of the Papal Guards is situated in a converted fortress in the town of Naters in southern Switzerland.

It displays objects of all sorts, including colourful uniforms and hallberts, and a gallery with all the portraits of the Vatican Guard commanders. The centre also features a special archive section.

The museum with an annual budget of just over SFr1 million ($0.8 million) is run by a foundation which was set up in 2002.

The Valais region, the site of the new museum, is known for its many sons who joined the guards during the course of time. Records from the 19th and 20th centuries show that there were 80 men from Naters who served as guardsmen.

The corps was founded in 1506 and comprises up to 110 men who report to the Pope and are financed by the Vatican.

Special events took place throughout the year to mark the 500-year anniversary of the world's smallest army. The festivities ended with a procession, a mass and a concert in September.

About 150 former Swiss Guards participated in a 720-kilometre march from Bellinzona in southern Switzerland to St Peter's Square in the Vatican as part of the jubilee celebrations.

swissinfo with agencies

In brief

The world's smallest army came into being in 1506 when about 150 Swiss guardsmen arrived at the Vatican Palace to protect Pope Julius II.

During the 1527 Sack of Rome 147 Swiss Guards died defending Pope Clement VII.

There are currently 110 Swiss Guards on duty at the Vatican, where they must serve at least two years.

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Key facts

Swiss Papal Guard recruits must be of Swiss nationality, male, aged 19-30, at least 1.74m tall, and Catholic.
They must have done military service in Switzerland and hold a vocational qualification or high school leaving certificate.
When recruited they must be single, though they may marry at a later stage.
Their monthly salary is SFr1,800 ($1,463) tax free. Board and lodging is included.

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