Perhaps you have wondered who are those guys in the fancy uniforms guarding the Pope and Vatican. Where do they come from? Are they really Swiss? How are they selected? How are they trained? And, really, what is the deal with those uniforms?
Now there is a go-to place for all things having to do with the world’s most recognizable military unit: the new website of the Swiss Guards. It is available in several languages, including English.
“Seldom is the traditional and the modern so tightly joined together as in the Swiss Guard,” says Christoph Graf, Commandant of the Guard in his welcoming words on the website. “The Swiss Guard has protected the pope and his residence since 1506, and that has not changed to this day.
“Today the traditional Renaissance uniform is worn by a modern, well-trained, young Swiss. What connects him to his 16th-century predecessors is his firm conviction that he serves Christ’s Church and his Vicar on Earth, the successor of Saint Peter. That he will sacrifice his own life if necessary to protect the pope. These men also share a sense of adventure on the international stage, camaraderie, and want to learn more about the latest developments and practice in personal security. To experience their faith more profoundly and, at the same time, to learn not only the Italian language but also Italian culture. In this Mediterranean climate, it is not only the fruit that ripens. Also faith, conviction, proficiency, friendship and the joy of life.”
As for those questions you might have in mind, yes, you must be a Swiss citizen to be a Swiss guard. There are 135 guards and they must have completed Swiss military training before applying to the Guard. The selection process is rigorous. Training also is rigorous, although Swiss Guards also learn about Italian art and music – and have time for sports and tourism.
When entering the Guard, the candidate must be single. In order to marry, the guardsman must be at least 25 years old, have served for five years, and commit to another three years of service. And only men serve in the Guard.
As for the persistent rumor that Michelangelo designed the uniforms, it is likely only true that his designs helped inspire them. They are most certainly Renaissance in design. That isn’t surprising; the Guard have served the Pope and Vatican for centuries.
It all began in 1506 when the first Swiss arrived on request of the Pope at the time, Julius II. The official founding of the Guard is listed as January 22, 1506, the day when 150 Swiss invaded Rome under the captain Kaspar von Silenen from the canton of Uri through the “Porto del Popolo” and entered the Vatican for the first time. They were blessed by the Holy Father and their ministry of protecting the Pope began.