Celebrations to mark the 500th anniversary of the founding of the Swiss Vatican Guard have taken place in Fribourg and the Italian capital, Rome.This content was published on January 22, 2006 - 17:50
Swiss Defence Minister Samuel Schmid took part in the local festivities, praising the guards for their loyalty throughout the years.
Pope Benedict XVI did not attend the proceedings in person but he was in Fribourg in spirit: he sent his blessing to participants via a satellite link-up from the Vatican.
He also blessed the 110-strong band of brothers stationed by his side who are responsible for his security.
Back in Fribourg, Schmid called the Swiss Guard brilliant representatives of Switzerland abroad.
Around 80 former guards in their blue-yellow striped uniforms took to the streets, marching with trumpets and drums through the town centre towards the university.
Celebrating with them was the Swiss cardinal, Georges Cottier, once known as the house theologian of the previous pope, John Paul II.
Cottier held a mass in Fribourg's cathedral.
The Swiss Mint took the opportunity to unveil a commemorative coin produced in honour of the venerable guard's anniversary.
With a nominal value of SFr50 ($39.20), the coin is made from a gold alloy and was designed by a former guard.
It was 500 years ago this month that 150 Swiss soldiers arrived in Rome after responding to a request from Pope Julius II for protection.
swissinfo with agencies
The Swiss Vatican Guard is responsible for protecting the papal residence.
It has a maximum of 110 members.
Candidates have to be Swiss, Catholic, under 30 and at least 174cm tall.
Recruits must be single on entry but can marry later.
Payment is SFr1,800 per month tax-free, with board and lodging free.
Guards must serve for at least two years.
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