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Swiss Papal Guard celebrations come to an end

The swearing-in ceremony of a new Swiss Guard in May

(Keystone)

Celebrations to mark 500 years of the Swiss Papal Guard have ended in southern Switzerland with a procession, a mass and a concert. They began in Lucerne in February.

More than 1,000 people attended the final events in Bissone, canton Ticino, which was deliberately chosen for the occasion.

Architects Carlo Maderno, Domenico Fontana and Francesco Borromini, who were responsible for highly respected sacred buildings in Rome, came from the region.

The president of the Ticino government, Luigi Pedrazzini, and Bishop Pier Giacomo Grampa, who celebrated mass, referred in their speeches to the close ties between Ticino and Rome.

About 150 former Swiss Guards earlier this year took part in a 720-kilometre march from Bellinzona in southern Switzerland to the Vatican as part of the jubilee celebrations.

They received a blessing from Pope Benedict XVI before the high point of the celebrations – the swearing-in of 33 new Swiss guards in St Peter's Square in front of a crowd of about 30,000.

Tradition

The new guardsmen are keeping a tradition that goes back to January, 1506 when Swiss mercenaries entered the Vatican after Pope Julius II had asked the Swiss authorities to provide him with a corps of 200 Swiss.

The day after their arrival – January 22 - they presented themselves to their new employer and that date in 1506 now goes down as the official founding of the Swiss Papal Guard.

Known as the smallest army in the world, it comprises up to 110 men who report to the Pope and are financed by the Vatican.

One hundred and forty-seven guards died in 1527 while trying to defend Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome.

Successive popes have rewarded this bravery by maintaining the services of the Papal Guard.

swissinfo with agencies

Key facts

Swiss Papal Guard recruits must be of Swiss nationality, male, aged 19 to 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.The minimum period of service is two years.
Their monthly salary is SFr1,800 ($1,463) tax free. Board and lodging is included.

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