The Pon­tif­i­cal Guard

One of the world’s old­est mil­i­tary units, the Swiss Guards is part of a mil­i­tary tra­di­tion that goes back five cen­turies

How It Works - - HISTORY -

These colour­ful soldiers may ap­pear to be bring­ing re­nais­sance flair for the de­light of tourists, but in fact they serve an im­por­tant pur­pose in pro­vid­ing se­cu­rity for the Pope. the ori­gins of the Pon­tif­i­cal Guard date back to 1506, when Pope Julius ii hired a unit of swiss soldiers for use as his per­sonal body­guard. Dur­ing this pe­riod the Pa­pal states ex­tended far be­yond the lim­its of the Vatican walls, and the Pa­pacy was of­ten in­volved in con­flicts with neigh­bour­ing na­tions. swiss mer­ce­nar­ies were re­garded as ex­cel­lent fight­ers, and for the right price any am­bi­tious prince or duke could hire a band of these elite soldiers, who could po­ten­tially be de­ci­sive on the bat­tle­field. how­ever, in 1527 the Guard faced dis­as­ter dur­ing the sack of rome by an in­vad­ing army of the holy ro­man em­peror charles V. 189 guards­men stood their ground to de­fend the Vatican and Pope cle­ment Vii, with all but 42 killed in a bru­tal last stand by the shrine of saint Peter. the guards had bought the pon­tiff enough time to es­cape through a se­cret pas­sage out of the city. While to­day’s guard has not faced any­thing nearly so per­ilous, it main­tains high stan­dards of mil­i­tary train­ing. al­though they carry tra­di­tional hal­berds and swords, each re­cruit must have served in the swiss army, with pro­fi­ciency in firearms and close-com­bat tech­niques. along with the Gen­darme corps, the Guard also pro­vides pro­tec­tion for the Pope on his vis­its abroad.

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