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Thursday, 4 July, 2002, 07:21 GMT 08:21 UK
First non-white joins Vatican guard
Dhani Bachmann (r)
Dhani Bachmann is learning Italian

The Vatican has sworn in the first non-white member of the Swiss Guard, the elite corps of soldiers who protect the Pope.

Private Dhani Bachmann, who comes from India, speaks only German - he was adopted by a Swiss family when he was only five years old.


Many tourists seem surprised to see an Indian in the uniform of a Swiss Guard

The Swiss Guard, the world's smallest army, gets its recruits from a group of Swiss towns and villages which for centuries have provided the Pope's personal mercenaries.

During the Middle Ages and in Renaissance times, the Swiss had the reputation of being among Europe's best and most reliable mercenary soldiers, meaning they fought well and did not change sides in mid-battle, as was wont to happen from time to time.

The Pope's private army was set up in Rome in 1506 and many members of the Swiss Guard gave their lives protecting the Pope during the sack of Rome a few years later.

Dhani Bachmann - his first name is Indian and his family name is Swiss - was adopted together with three other children from an Indian orphanage by the German-speaking Bachmann family from a village called Hildisrieden in central Switzerland.

He explained that he first heard about the Swiss Guards from local retired members of the Pope's exclusive army.

Antique uniforms

The just over 100-strong Swiss Guard wear the antique blue and orange uniforms designed, legend has it, perhaps by the great Renaissance artist Michaelangelo himself.

Dhani Bachmann is learning Italian so he can answer the many questions put to him by tourists when he is on guard in St Peter's Square.

Many tourists seem surprised to see an Indian in the uniform of a Swiss Guard.

The conditions of recruitment are severe - candidates have to be practising Catholics, to have completed their compulsory military service in Switzerland and to be of irreproachable character.

Swiss Guards sign on for a minimum of two years. Many leave the Pope's military service for lucrative jobs with some of the world's best-known security services and banks.

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27 Feb 02 | Country profiles
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