Rome -(AP) The pope's retirement means his famous Swiss Guards get a few days off before they have to protect the new pope.
Stern-face and standing as erect as the halberds they grasp, Swiss Guards rarely betray emotion on duty. But their storied history has its early roots in a bloody drama.
Nearly five centuries ago, 147 Swiss Guards died while protecting Pope Clement VII in his frantic dash to safety when Emperor Charles V's soldiers sacked Rome.
A few decades earlier, the Renaissance pope, Julius II, had asked Switzerland to supply the Vatican with soldiers because he was so impressed by the courage of Swiss mercenaries.
The Swiss Guards will go off-duty Thursday evening at 8 p.m. - the exact moment when the man they serve, Pope Benedict XVI, resigns.
Copyright Associated Press 2013