Either on television or in Rome, if you’ve already had the chance to visit the city, you might have noticed some men dressed in a peculiar way standing close to the pope or around the Vatican itself. Well, those men are the so-called “Swiss Guards,” who act as the Vatican private police. This Guard has been a part of the Vatican for centuries and its history is pretty interesting. In this guide, we’ll cover all of the basics of the Swiss Guard, what they do, and how one can become part of this elite group.
History of the Swiss Guard
As mentioned, the Swiss Guard has been part of the Vatican for centuries. Its history began in 1506, when a group of Helvetian mercenaries landed in Rome and, more specifically, in the Vatican where they offered their services to the pope. After this, several popes used these mercenaries to fight their war until the 19th century. With the end of all the Italian wars, the Vatican decided to stop using these people as a real army and, instead, started to use their services as the pope’s personal protection or as ceremonial guards.
What does the Swiss Guard Do?
This guard has changed its role in the Vatican throughout the centuries and it’s still open to change. For example, after the Pope’s attack in 1981, the Vatican chose to use the Swiss Guard members as the pope’s bodyguards, even during his trips abroad, although the guards would not wear their uniforms.
Also, in order to prevent terrorism, the Swiss Guard has been included in the Italian law forces training on what to do in case of terrorist attacks in the Vatican. The latest news about the Swiss Guard includes the possibility of accepting women in the upcoming years.
How to Join the Swiss Guard
Not everybody can become a Swiss Guard. To enroll, and then to be accepted, applicants have to pass a preliminary selection. The Swiss Guard has some conditions that must be respected. First of all, applicants have to be Swiss citizens; they have to be male and Catholic. They have to be between 18 and 30 years old, having served already in the Swiss military and had obtained a good behavior certificate. Also, people who apply have to be at least 174 centimeters tall and in possession of a high-school certificate or a professional one. When someone applies, he can’t be married, even though the Vatican has recently approved marriage after five years in the Guard.
Swiss Guard Uniforms
What might be the most interesting to observe is the Swiss Guard’s colorful uniform. This attire, and its colors, changes according to the military grade; for example, the sergeants wear something red and blue while officials something red. The yellow, red and blue attire is the ceremonial one, used for special occasions. Some legends claim that it was Michelangelo who designed these uniforms while today we know for sure that it was the chief Jules Repond who created them in the 20th century, inspired by some of Raffaello’s works.
Swiss Guard Flag
The Swiss Guard owns its flag, designed centuries ago and never changed ever since. The flag has a square shape and it measures two meters. It showcases two red squares on its top left and bottom right part. The first one displays the reigning pope’s crest while the one in the bottom represents Giulio’s 2nd crest. In the middle you might notice another crest; that’s the one of the Swiss Guard general-in-chief which displays the Swiss canton where he comes from. The rest of the flag is decorated with their typical colors such as yellow, red and blue.
Although one of the conditions to enroll in the Swiss Guard is to have already served in the army, those who are accepted have to be trained as Vatican guards as well. These training sessions are conducted in Switzerland, in the Ticino canton, and all the men are trained in personal defense techniques, some military tactics and even how to shoot from a certain distance. In total, this training lasts 176 hours and at the end of it all the new guards are sent directly to the Vatican to attend the formal pledge in front of the Pope.
Roles in the Swiss Guard
According to Vatican law, the Swiss army should be composed by 110 members. Specifically, the Swiss Guard includes six officials who are entrusted with different roles, 26 petty officers and 78 soldiers. All those members are entrusted with their role directly from the pope and after their pledge they are ready to begin their life and career at the Vatican.
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