Originally published 02/28/2013
VATICAN CITY — In their plumed helmets and striped uniforms, the Swiss Guards are one of the most beloved traditions of the Vatican — and on Thursday take a central role in the pope’s historic resignation. The bodyguards will stand at attention as the pope arrives by helicopter at his summer retreat in his last hours as pontiff. When they walk off duty, it will be one of the few visible signs that Benedict XVI is no longer pope. A look at the Swiss guards and their colorful history.ORIGINS:The corps, which some historians consider the oldest standing army in the world, was founded in 1506 by Pope Giulio II. Tradition has it that he was so impressed by the bravery of Swiss mercenaries that he asked them to defend the Vatican. Ever since, for more than 500 years, Switzerland has been supplying soldiers to the Vatican. The Swiss Guards swear an oath to give up their lives to protect the pope — and in centuries past, they have. In 1527, 147 of them died protecting Pope Clement VII as he fled to safety when the troops of Emperor Charles V sacked Rome....