New Swiss Guards at Vatican

40 new Swiss Guards sworn in on 6 May.

40 new papal Swiss Guards were sworn in on 6 May, after taking a solemn oath of allegiance to the pope at a ceremony in the S. Damaso courtyard of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace.

The annual event commemorates 6 May 1527, when 147 Swiss Guards died protecting Pope Clement VII from the army of the Holy Roman Emperor. The pope fled via the 800-m Passetto di Borgo passageway to the nearby refuge of Castel S. Angelo.

Pope Francis reminded the new recruits of their calling to "another sacrifice no less arduous" — serving the power of faith.

The 110 current Swiss Guards belong to the world's oldest standing army which celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2006. The guards must be male and of Swiss nationality, as well as being Catholic, unmarried and aged between 19 and 30. They must also have undergone intensive Swiss military training and be a minimum height of 174 cm.

In addition to protecting the pope, the army performs ceremonial duties and assists at Vatican functions, and is famous for its ancient halberd weapons and its blue, gold and red uniform. The soldiers serve for between two and 25 years.

In 2015 Pope Francis dismissed the guards' former commander Colonel Daniel Anrig, replacing him with his deputy Christoph Graf. It was reported that Anrig's excessively-strict style did not impress the pontiff who prefers a more familiar approach with the guards, many of whom he knows by name.

Almost two decades ago the Swiss Guards became embroiled in a scandal when their commander Alois Estermann and his Venezuelan wife were assassinated in their home on Vatican territory on 4 May 1998. They were murdered by a young Swiss Guard, Cédric Tornay, who then killed himself, according to the official Vatican reports. Formerly the guards’ acting commander, Estermann had been installed in his new position earlier the same day. Mystery still surrounds the case which has led to numerous conspiracy theories.

For more information about the Swiss Guards see their Facebook page.