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The Swiss Guard
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Military Personnel
    (January 22, 1506- )
    Born in Switzerland
    Protects the Pope and Vatican Palace
    De facto military force of Vatican City
    Approximately 135 members
    Often called 'the world's smallest army'
    Recruits must be unmarried Swiss Catholic males between ages 19 and 30, who are at least 5'8 tall and have completed basic training with the Swiss armed forces
    By the late 19th century, the Guard had become disorganized and undisciplined.
    The imposition of rigorous military training by new commander Jules Repond resulted in a week of open mutiny (July, 1913), followed by the dismissal of thirteen ringleaders from the Guard.
    Contrary to popular belief, their uniforms were not designed by Michelangelo. (Actually, they were designed in 1914 by Repond, based on Renaissance costumes.)
    In the first murders in the Vatican since the mid-19th century, newly appointed commander Alois Estermann and his wife were killed by a guardsman who then committed suicide (May 4, 1998).
    The killings inspired a wave of conspiracy theories involving Cold War politics or Opus Dei, although the more prosaic (and more likely) motive is that the killer resented being reprimanded by Estermann and being passed over for a medal that most guardsmen routinely received after three years of service.
    During the Sack of Rome, 147 Guards, including their commander, died fighting the soldiers of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, allowing Pope Clement VII to escape (May 6, 1527).
    When the Swiss constitution was revised to ban its citizens from serving as foreign mercenaries (1874), an exemption was written in for the Vatican's Swiss Guard.
    Their ceremonial uniforms are individually tailored to fit each guard perfectly. The process takes 30 hours per uniform.
    After the assassination attempt against Pope John Paul II, more emphasis was placed on their protective role, with enhanced training in unarmed combat and small arms.
    In addition to nifty looking swords, halberds, and polearms, they are also equipped with more practical Swiss pistols and rifles.

Credit: C. Fishel

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