Swiss Guard steps up security for Vatican Easter celebrations

Easter is the biggest event of the year for the Vatican's Swiss Guard (picture: Low wages may be taking the shine off being the Pope's personal bodyguard (picture:

The traditional Easter services and events at the Vatican attract flocks of visitors, making it one of the busiest times of year and one of the most difficult for the Swiss Guard, which is entrusted with security at the Vatican.

This content was published on April 13, 2001 minutes

Events and celebrations to mark Easter have been in full swing at the Vatican since Thursday. They culminate at the Easter Sunday Mass with a message and blessing from the Pope to mark the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

It's a punishing schedule for the 80-year-old Pontiff and for the guards responsible for his personal protection.

But the Swiss Guards have almost 500 years of experience to fall back on. Founded in 1505 by Pope Julius II, the Swiss corps has provided papal protection and guarded Vatican buildings down the intervening centuries.

The world's smallest army - it currently numbers 100 - was originally a military corps fielded by medieval popes to exert control over part of the Italian peninsula.

Chosen for their stability and discipline, the Swiss soldiers were called to the protection of Rome during its sacking by troops of the Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, in 1527. More than 140 members of the Guard died in the ensuing battle.

Nowadays the Swiss Guards have more of a ceremonial than a military role, but they still retain the Renaissance helmets and colourful tunics of their predecessors.

But the recent history of the guards has not been without drama. Switzerland was shocked three years ago when the newly appointed commander, Alois Estermann, was shot dead by a junior member of the guard, who then turned the gun on himself.

Since then the main problem encountered by the Swiss Guards has been finding enough recruits. It seems many Swiss are put off by the stringent entry requirements. Would-be guards must be male, Roman Catholic, Swiss nationals, under 30 and at least one metre, 72 centimetres tall.


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