A child dressed as a Swiss Guard stands in St Peter's Square at the Vatican February 12, 2013. Pope Benedict stunned the Roman Catholic Church on Monday when he announced he would stand down, the first pope to do so in 700 years, saying he no longer had the mental and physical strength to carry on.Photo: Reuters/Max Rossi
Got a penchant for colorful striped parachute pants and dandy feathered hats? Are you male, Catholic, Swiss, ages 19-30, at least five feet, 8.5 inches tall (174 cm), and unmarried or otherwise unattached? Have you completed basic military training, and can produce a certificate of good moral conduct? Do you have a high school diploma or professional degree?
Swiss guards stand at the entrance of Pope Benedict XVI's summer residence in Castelgandolfo February 28, 2013. Pope Benedict left the Vatican on Thursday after pledging unconditional obedience to whoever succeeds him to guide the Roman Catholic Church at one of the most crisis-ridden periods in its 2,000-year history. Photo: Reuters/Tony Gentile
If those criteria describe you, then you're qualified to become a member of the Papal Swiss Guard, the Vatican’s official army. The requirements have been the same since 1506, the Vatican’s official website said.
A Swiss guard adjusts his hat as he waits for the arrival of Pope Benedict XVI to lead a special audience with priests of the Diocese of Rome in Paul VI's hall at the Vatican February 14, 2013.Photo: Reuters/Max Rossi
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The Swiss have been serving the Vatican since the 1400s. They used to be soldiers-for-hire by states, or potentates, besides the Vatican, but the Swiss government amended the constitution in 1874 so that only the Vatican could rent them out. It wasn’t until 1970 that the Swiss Guard became the exclusive, official military force of the Vatican.
Swiss Guards stands at the entrance of the Vatican, March 1, 2013. With Pope Benedict XVI now officially in retirement, Catholic cardinals from around the world begin on Friday the complex, cryptic and uncertain process of picking the next leader of the world's largest church. Photo: Reuters/Tony Gentile
New recruits are sworn in May 6 every year, a day of significance for the Vatican: May 6, 1527, was the Sack of Rome, when the army of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V invaded and ransacked the city. The swearing in takes place in the St. Damaso Courtyard within the Vatican City, and each recruit recites the oath, in either German, English, French or Italian: “I, [name], swear I will observe faithfully, loyally and honorably all that has now been read out to me! May God and his saints assist me!"
Swiss guards stand guard in front of the gate where Cardinals arrive to attend a meeting at the Synod Hall in the Vatican, March 7, 2013.Photo: Reuters/Tony Gentile
Papal guards are paid a tax-free salary of 15,600 euros annually ($20,200), as well as overtime, room and board. The uniforms, universally recognized, were designed in 1914 and are meant to hark back to the Renaissance.
A Swiss Guard is seen during a mass in St. Peter's Basilica at the Vatican March 12, 2013. All cardinals, including those over 80 who will not vote in the conclave, celebrate Mass in St Peter's Basilica to pray for the election of the new pope. The Mass is called "Pro Eligendo Romano Pontefice" ("For the Election of the Roman Pontiff") and is open to the public. Photo: Reuters/Stefano Rellandini
While mostly decorative and ceremonial, the Swiss Guards do have an actual function: guarding the pope and the cardinals. After an assassination attempt in 1981 on Pope John Paul II, more focus shifted to the guards and their roles as protectors, and the men began receiving more comprehensive training with small arms and unarmed combat.
Swiss Guards flank the closed doors to the Sistine Chapel as cardinals begin the conclave in order to elect a successor to Pope Benedict at the Vatican March 12, 2013. Shut off from the outside world, the 115 cardinals will cast their ballots in a chapel which has Michelangelo's soaring Last Judgment on one wall, and his depiction of the hand of God giving life to Adam above them. Photo: Reuters/Osservatore Romano
"Habemus Papam!" "We have a Pope!" These are the words the world's Catholics wait for each time the white smoke rises above the Vatican to announce a new pope. And they were spoken again Wednesday afternoon, when French Cardinal Jean-Louis Tauran announced Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio as Pope Francis.