The Pontifical Swiss Guard, also called Papal Swiss Guard (Latin: Cohors Helvetica or Cohors Pedestris Helvetiorum a Saca Custodia Pontificis), is an army maintained by the Holy See, responsible for the security service of the Pope, including the protection of the Apostolic Palace. The Pope’s bodyguards serve as military of the Vatican City. The Swiss Guard was established in 1506 under Pope Julius II.
In total, there are 110 Swiss Guards. The army consists of a leader (Commandant), four officers, six sergeants, a priest, one staff sergeant, ten corporals, and ten vice corporals. Other seventy-seven guards are halberdiers.
According to the history, the Pontifical Swiss Guard was created by Pope Julius II, known as “the warrior pope”, on the 22nd of January, 1506. There were 150 pope’s swiss guards, led by Captain Kaspar von Silenen, who came to Rome through the Porta del Popolo. They reached St Peter’s, where the Pope blessed them for the Benediction Loggia.
The Pope’s security service started to exist more than 500 years ago and today, the powerful armory army is responsible for current Pope Francis’s safety.
Several years later, the Guards had tough test of their experience, “The Sack of Rome.” On May 6, 1527, Emperor Charles V’s troops, consisting mostly of Spanish soldiers and German mercenaries, plundered Rome. That day, 147 dead bodies of soldiers were seen at the Vatican, who ensured Pope Clement VII’s safe escape to the Castle of Angels (Castel Sant’Angelo). For this reason, recruits take their oath of Loyalty on May 6th, which is the date of the anniversary of the sack of Rome of 1527. Moreover, the ceremony takes place in the historic St. Damaso courtyard, located in the Vatican. The oath is read in the four official languages of Switzerland: Latin, German, French, and Italian. Then, each recruit confirms the oath in the language which he speaks, holding the Guard’s standard in his left hand and raising up right hand with three fingers open, representing the holy Trinity.
The Swiss Guard is the smallest army in the world
The Pope’s choice to hire Swiss mercenaries was connected to their reputation of being invincible and loyal. In 1870, when the peninsula of Italy suppressed the Papal States, the Swiss Guard took on a different meaning. It stopped being an army in the traditional sense of the word, despite the fact that we still refer it to the army. Moreover, in 1874, by changing the Swiss constitution, the hiring of soldiers of foreign powers became outlawed. In addition, by 1927, Bern prohibited Swiss nationals from enlisting in other nation’s military forces. However, the Vatican guard was exempt from new restrictions.
Today, the Swiss Guard functions much as a ceremonial unit, but they are professionally trained to use weapons to protect the Pope
The costumes of the special forces are of blue, red, orange and yellow with a Renaissance-inspired appearance. Considering details, the red and blue colors of the uniform were of the della Rovere family, to which Pope Julius belonged, while red embodied the color of Medici family, of which Pope Clement VII was a member.
There was a rumor that the designer of the uniform was either Michelangelo of Raphael
However, Michelangelo had no connection to the creation of the uniform, while Raphael only provided the inspiration for it’s puffed sleeves. The “Gala uniform”, which we know today, was introduced in the early 20th century by Commander Jules Repond.
The uniform is usually worn with a blue basque cap
At Easter, Christmas and the swearing-in ceremonies, a 17th century armor is added to the uniform, including a silver helmet with ostrich feather. Another kind of uniform, “Exerzieruniform” (excursive uniform), is used for training throughout night duties and at the entrance to St. Anne’s.
The soldiers are equipped with traditional weapons, such as halberd and modern firearms. One of the most notable aspects of the Swiss Guard is their vintage armory. Vintage armor and edged weapons – mostly the sword and the halberd are still used today.
The modern invasion among weapons of the army is the “Swiss Army Knife”, which is a self-protection staple of every Swiss citizen and is widely used also outside the army. These knives are multi-functional tools and exist in different sizes and functional combinations. They can be found in the pocket of every Vatican Swiss Guard.
Moreover, the corps works alongside the Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State, the gendarmerie, or police of the Vatican
Main responsibilities of the Swiss Guard are:
- Accompany the Holy Father during his travels
- Protect the College of Cardinals during papal transitions
- Guard the entrances to the Vatican City
- Perform other security and honorary services
The Pontifical Swiss Guard Banner is divided by a white cross into four corners. One can see red, yellow, and blue colors on the upper right and lower left corners, which are colors of the guard. Moreover, the design of the banner has been changed several times. The lower left corner contains the representation of arms of Pope Juilius II, while the ruling arms of the Pope are embodied in the upper left corner. Also, there is the depiction of the guard’s commander’s arms in the center of the flag.
How to become Swiss Guard
Not any person can join Pope’s personal security forces. There are special criteria for guards to get a job: the candidate must be unmarried Swiss Catholic male between 19 and 30 years old, who have been trained with the Swiss Armed Forces. Guards can marry after getting 25 years old, after they have already served for 3 years or more. Here, they commit themselves to serving another 3 years and are at least at the rank of Corporal. Also, each candidate must have served in the Swiss army and contains either a professional diploma or a high school degree. Undoubtedly, the reputation of the applicant must be irreproachable.
The Pope pays attention to the criteria that applicants must be at least 174 cm tall, while Swiss nationality is a prerequisite for joining the Corps
- For more information visit the official website: www.guardiasvizzera.va
The yearly salary for an entry level worker in the Pope’s security army is 15.600 euro per year (around 20.000 $). Moreover, guards are provided with food and accommodation. Depending on the status, employed guards get paid more. Another important feature of any member of the Swiss Guard is an access to the territory of the Vatican City-State, where only holders of the government’s passport or permit to stay can cross its borders.
Being one of Swiss Guard’s members is a huge responsibility. You can see the representatives of the smallest army in the world during your visit to the Vatican. Tell us in comments about your experience and opinion related to the security service of the Pope!