Over the years, Swiss troops have shown great devotion in serving the head of the Catholic Church. Their bloodiest sacrifice was made on May 6, 1527, during the Sack of Rome, when 147 Swiss guards died defending Pope Clement VII from a much larger army of Lansquenets (German mercenaries) in the pay of Emperor Charles V.[Hmm -- going through all my pictures from my varous jaunts to Rome. Apparently, I never took a photo of a Swiss guard. Very strange. Maybe I was frightened by their mean looking halbreds?]
Their sacrifice is remembered every year at a ceremony in the Vatican on May 6, when new recruits swear an oath of loyalty to the pontiff.
The Vatican has had other guards besides the Swiss, namely the Noble Guard, created in 1801, and the Palatine Guard, founded in 1850. But they were both disbanded in 1970 by Paul VI who decided to do away with the Vatican's military trappings.
He made an exception for the Swiss guards because of their proven loyalty to the pontiff.
The guard today consists of 110 men, as stipulated by John Paul II in regulations which came into force in 1979.
As well as performing military service and providing a guard of honour, they control access to the Vatican City, watch over the Apostolic Palace and act as bodyguards to the pope.
Usually this involves keeping the faithful at arm's length, but the guards must be permanently alert to danger, as was demonstrated on May 13, 1981, when John Paul II narrowly survived an assassination attempt by Turk Ali Agca.
Oh no -- I knew I'd taken at least one. Ecco.