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Swiss Guards seal end of Pope Benedict’s reign

A Swiss Guard stands in front of St Peter's Basilica at the Vatican, as Benedict XVI prepares his final general audience on Wednesday Keystone

The Swiss Papal Guards have marked the ofiicial resignation of Pope Benedict after seven years in office.

In a symbolic gesture, the sentry closed the massive wooden doors and quit their posts at the Castel Gandolfo summer residence outside Rome at 8pm on Thursday to return to the Vatican.

As of now the 110-strong unit in their colourful Renaissance uniforms is no longer in charge of Benedict XVI’s personal safety.

Earlier in the day, he was flown by helicopter from the Vatican to Castel Gandolfo where he is expected to stay several weeks before retiring to a monastery on a hill inside Vatican City.

The German pontiff, who was born Joseph Ratzinger, cited his frail health when he announced his resignation on February 11.

The 86-year old pope emeritus is now protected by the Vatican police force.

In a final public farewell before his pontificate ended he told a crowd: “I am going to become a pilgrim about to start the last trip of my journey on this Earth”.

Cardinals will meet next month to elect a new spiritual leader of the 1.2 billion-member Catholic Church.

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SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR

SWI - a branch of Swiss Broadcasting Corporation SRG SSR