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Swiss Guard

The Swiss Guard are a small force responsible for the security of the Apostolic Palace, the entrances to the Vatican and the safety of the Pope.

The force is specifically limited to a hundred soldiers and is largely ceremonial, although they are fully trained and equipped to modern standards. The force is recruited from Roman Catholic males of Swiss nationality; after they have completed basic training with the Swiss military they can obtain certificates of good conduct and apply to serve. Recruits must be between 19 and 30 and at least 174 cm (5ft 9in) tall. If accepted, new guards are sworn in every May 6 in the San Damaso Courtyard in the Vatican. The term of service is between two and 25 years. Their official uniform is distinctly Renaissance in blue, red and yellow, although their routine garb is more functional.

The Swiss Guard is not considered to belong to any larger force, but is instead the army of the sovereign state of the Vatican. It is currently composed of 4 officers, 23 NCOs, 70 halbardiers, 2 drummers, and a chaplain.

The Guard was founded by Pope Julius II in 1505 to provide a constant core of soldiers to protect the Pope; the Swiss mercenaries were an obvious choice. The official founding date is given as January 21. The force has varied greatly in size and has even been disbanded. The soldiers' most significant action was on May 6, 1527 when 147 of them died fighting the forces of Charles V. Since 1859 they have been the only mercenary group permitted under Swiss law.

On May 6, 1998, Cedrich Tornay[?] killed Colonel Alois Estermann[?], commander of the Swiss Guard, and his Venezuelan wife Gladys Meza Romero[?], and afterwards, himself, in the commander's home.

Just ten hours before the killings, Pope John Paul II had appointed Estermann as the 31st "captain commander". "It's an honor," Estermann had told the Swiss newspaper Le Matin. "These are big responsibilities. But behind this choice, I see the will of God, who will help me accomplish my service well." Estermann joined the Swiss Guard in 1980.

On May 13, 1981, after the Pope had been shot by Mehmet Ali Agca, Estermann jumped onto the moving Popemobile and shielded him with his own body.

Tornay's motive is probably being upset about a reprimand from Estermann for not having returned to barracks at time, and not being one of the guardsmen who were to be honored by the pope in a ceremony.

As a result of the murder, some changes have taken place within the Swiss Guard, for instance new methods of candidate screening, a reform of the training and promotion procedures and new recruiting campaigns. Pius Segmuller[?] was appointed the new commander.



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