In 1506, Pope Julius II hired Swiss mercenary forces for his personal protection (via History). Since then, the guards, who wear red, yellow, and blue Renaissance-inspired uniforms have been by each pope‘s side. Contrary to popular belief, the uniforms weren’t designed by Michelangelo; the current uniform came into being in 1914, Aleteia reports.
With only 135 men, they are actually the smallest army in the world (via City Wonders). However, don’t let this small number fool you. The Swiss Guards are composed of highly-trained soldiers and marksmen. Besides personal protection, they carry out various ceremonial duties as well as standard security at the Vatican (via The Local).
But how did the Swiss Guard come to be? Switzerland was once an economically struggling country. Thus, young men often traveled abroad as mercenaries. Known for their professionalism and loyalty, they often served monarchs (via Utrecht University).
Nothing exemplified this more than the Sack of Rome on May 6, 1527. As the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V massacred the city, the Swiss Guards held the army back long enough for Pope Clement VII to escape. Out of 189 guards, only 42 survived. As a result, the new Swiss Guards are sworn in annually on May 6 to commemorate the event (via Vatican News).
The surprising requirements needed to be a part of the Swiss Guards
According to The Local, the Swiss Guards get paid a monthly salary of €1,500 or around $1,777 U.S. They also get free housing and free schooling for their children. To many, this might be a small monetary amount for their service, but this a profession that is more about honor and less about the profit (via What a Life Tours).
Moreover, there are several requirements one must meet before entering the Swiss Guards. Each recruit must be a male with Swiss citizenship and be a devoted Roman Catholic (via City Wonders). The minimum height requirement is 5’8″. The minimum age requirement is 19; the maximum age is 30.
In order to marry, you must be 25 and have served the pope for five years (and be committed to serving three more). The minimum amount of time they must serve is 26 months. Each recruit is also required to complete basic military training in Switzerland.
The Swiss Guards are stationed throughout the Vatican and can be seen in their iconic uniforms. These uniforms are personally fitted for each guard and can take up to 30 hours to complete (via History of Yesterday). Aside from watching over the Vatican, the Swiss Guards also accompany the pope on his international travels.
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