06 November 2011

Swiss Guards - Vatican City

The Swiss Guards are a small force responsible for the security of the Vatican city with various task including guarding the entrances to the Vatican as well as ensuring the personal safety of the Pope. Today being a Swiss guard at the Vatican city is largely a ceremonial role; However the history of the Swiss guards corps is a long one involving many real military campaigns.

History of Swiss Guards at Vatican City

The origins of the Swiss guards at the Vatican dates back nearly six hundred years. 
Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) formed a pact with the Swiss Confederation and constructed military barracks in Via Pellegrino after predicting that it would be useful to recruit Swiss mercenaries. The pact was renewed by Innocent VIII (1484-1492) in order to use the Swiss guards against the Duke of Milan. It should be remembered that in those days Italy was not a unified country but rather a series of independent city states that often fought with each other. Alexander VI (1492-1503) used the Swiss mercenaries during their alliance with the King of France. During the time of the Borgias, however, the Italian Wars began in which the Swiss mercenaries were a fixture in the front lines among the warring factions, sometimes for France and sometimes for the Holy See or the Holy Roman Empire.

Swiss Guards Regiment Size

The number of Swiss guards at the Vatican has varied over the decades and at one time was even been disbanded. The first real war experienced by the Swiss guards was in 1527 when 147 of the 189 Guards, including their commander, died fighting the forces of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V during the Sack of Rome in order to allow Clement VII to escape through the Passetto di Borgo, escorted by the other 40 guards. The last stand battlefield is located on the left side of St Peter’s Basilica and can still be seen today on a visit to the Vatican City.

The Swiss Guard has served the popes since the sixteenth century. The Swiss Guard used to share duties at guarding the Pope along with the Palatine Guard and Noble Guard, both of which were disbanded in 1970 under Paul VI. Today the Swiss Guard are the only corps who carry out ceremonial roles of the former Vatican units, serving now as the army of the sovereign state of the Vatican. At the end of 2005, there were 134 members of the Swiss Guard. This included a Commandant a chaplain, three officers, one sergeant major 30 NCOs, and 99 privates or halberdiers as they are known.

Swiss Guard Eligibility

Swiss guards at the Vatican must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss military and can obtain certificates of good conduct. New recruits must have a professional diploma or high school degree and must be between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174 cm tall.

Qualified candidates must apply to serve. If accepted, new guards are sworn in every May 6 in the San Damaso Courtyard in the Vatican. The chaplain of the guard reads aloud the oath in the language of the guard (German,  French and Italian).

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