For almost 500 years, young men from all over Switzerland have made the trek to Rome to guard the pope as Swiss guards.
Now a former member of the elite division has revealed that, besides protecting the pontiff, he spent his two years in the Vatican rebuffing unwanted sexual advances from priests, bishops and even a high-ranking cardinal.
The unnamed guard told a Swiss newspaper that he was the subject of 20 “unambiguous sexual requests”.
“One night, after midnight, I received a call on my mobile phone,” said the former guard in the interview. “The person on the other end said he was a cardinal and he asked me to come to his room.”
On another occasion the guard, who said he served during the papacy of Pope John Paul II, found a bottle of whiskey outside his door alongside the calling card of an influential bishop.
He recalled a dinner with a priest in a Rome restaurant that took an unexpected turn.
“As the spinach and steak were served, the priest said to me: ‘And you are the dessert’,” recalled the ex-guard, saying he stood up and left without touching his food. When the guard complained about the incident to his superior in the guard, he said he was told that, as he spoke no Italian, he had clearly misunderstood the priest’s intentions.
When the time came for him to leave the Vatican, and the ex-guard intended to apply for a job in the Vatican, he was told to meet an unnamed bishop but to "have a shower beforehand".
Mr Urs Breitenmoser, a guard spokesman, told the Swiss newspaper that the rumours were of no interest and that guards occupied themselves with “very different matters” during their two-year service.
The Swiss Guard were founded in 1506 by Pope Julius II. Members must be unmarried Swiss men between the ages of 19 and 30 and of "good moral ethical background".