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Who are the Swiss Guards? - Vatican Connections

May 15, 2017
The Pontifical Swiss Guard is one of the smallest armies in the world, and one of the oldest still in operation. Its main responsibility is to protect the Pope and the Apostolic Palace. Although they have mostly held a ceremonial role in recent years, their training now includes unarmed combat and firearms.
Not surprisingly, to become a Swiss Guard you must be Swiss, Male, Catholic, in good health, have completed a two-year Swiss Army training and be between the ages of 19 and 30 years old. They are also, typically, unmarried.  
The uniform the Swiss Guards wear today was introduced by Jules Repond, Commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guard in the early 20th century. The official colours of the uniform are red, blue, orange and yellow. The colours derive from the coat of arms of 2 noble families of Italy: the della Rovere and the Medici. Repond kept the Renaissance style of the uniform, finding inspiration in paintings by 16th century representations of the Guards. Uniforms vary according to rank. But each one is tailor-made to the guardsman.
Fact: 1 uniform has 154 pieces and it weighs about 8 pounds. 32 hours are put into making it!
The Swiss mercenaries played an important role in European politics in the Renaissance period. They were known as some of the best soldiers and were sought out by many European countries to help them in battle.
An alliance between the Holy See and Switzerland began during the Italian Wars in the 15th century. Swiss mercenaries were essentially used to fight the Pope’s battles, to defend what was then known as the Papal States from invasion. The founding date of the Pontifical Swiss Guard is set to 1506, when a group of 150 soldiers entered the Vatican for the first time. Eventually, Pope Julius II gave them the title of “Defenders of the Church’s freedom”.
Today, a Swiss Guard's responsibilities include: visitors’ control, guard duty, and personal protection to the Pope and College of Cardinals. But on their spare time, some find leisure in various activities. They have their own soccer team and band.
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