500 years of Swiss Guard
Yesterday was the 500 years of Swiss Guard, as it was on 22 January 1506 that Pope Jules II requested Swiss Mercenaries to become the defender of the Holy See. Pope Jules II was impressed by the capabilities of Swiss Mercenaries in defending the Conferederation in face of attack from Habsburg Austrian or Duke of Milan. As the Pope felt his authority was weaken by Reformer and corruption and bad finance, the Vatican felt the need to increase its security.
150 brave mercenaries leaved from Lucerne in winter 1505-1506. Soon, they became indispensable for the Vatican, and their number was increased to 300 in 1512. Already famous as the best troops in Europe at that time, Swiss mercenaries created a legend in their capacity of Swiss Guard. In 1527, attack was launched on Rome. Pope Clément VII made a mistake in aligning himself with French camp against the Emperor Charles Quint. The later destroyed Rome and almost invaded the Vatican-City. The Swiss Guard barricaded the entry to Saint Peter's Basilica and defended the Vatican against thousands of armies. 147 Swiss Guards died, while the 42 survivors succeeded in protecting the Pope Clément's retreat to Castel Sant'Angelo. On that day, 6 May 1527, the Swiss Guard saved the Papacy. This historic glorious act is celebrated every 6 May, when the new recruits take their oath of loyalty.
Directly under Pope's order, now Swiss Guards consist of 110 men. To become one, the man has to be Swiss, age of 19-30 y.o, minimum 174 cm, Catholic, single, without criminal record, and succeeded in the Swiss Guard's training.
Source: L'Illustré, No. 3, 18 January 2006, p. 56
For more information click on The Roman Curia: Swiss Guard