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Swiss Guards, pope protectors since 1506, say goodbye to Benedict XVI

- The Washington Times - Thursday, February 28, 2013

Swiss Guards played a key role in the Pope's historic retirement Thursday as they flanked the 20-foot doorway leading into the papal palace at 8 p.m. in the Vatican.

The Miami Herald tweeted that about 100 well-wishers braved the freezing temperatures to witness the occasion. The guards marched into the palace. The massive wooden doors began closing shut, "and with the click of a lock,

Pope Benedict XVI's eight-year reign as leader of the world's 1.2 billion Catholics came to a quiet end," The Herald reports.

The Swiss Guard are one of the most beloved traditions of the papacy, and they'll finally get a few days rest until the next Pope takes the reigns.

The guards' main duty is to protect the Pope, as they are armed with halberds and are trained in unarmed combat and small arms. Fox News reports that they also provide ceremonial duties and assist at Vatican functions.

Perhaps corps are known best, however, for their Renaissance-style gala uniforms of blue, red, orange and yellow stripes and crimson-plumed helmets, meant for special occasions, like a swearing-in or the Pope's retirement. Their day-to-day dress is more functional, with a solid-blue version of the gala dress and a blue beret.

The Papal Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 by Pope Giulio II, and it is the only Swiss Guard that still exists. Over 500 years later, Switzerland still supplies soldiers to the Vatican.

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