The Pontifical Swiss Guards is the closest the Vatican has to a standing army. Formed in 1506 by Pope Julius II, the hiring of Swiss mercenaries for protection was not an uncommon practice at that time. In 1527, the corps distinguished itself during the sack of Rome, with many guardsmen giving their lives to save Pope Clement VII – each year on 6 May, the battle’s anniversary, new members are sworn in. Candidates must be Catholic, single males of Swiss nationality.

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