VATICAN CITY, NOV. 22, 2005 (Zenit.org).- The Swiss Guards are preparing to celebrate their 500th anniversary, with special remembrances of the men of this security corps who died in service to the Pope.
The commander of the Pope’s guard, Colonel Elmar Mader, explained to journalists today that the celebrations will begin next Jan. 22.
That is when the corps starts to commemorate the five centuries since the entrance in Rome of the first 150 Swiss military men who placed themselves at the service of Pope Julius II (1503-1513).
During the press conference in the Vatican press office, Mader revealed, “For the occasion of the fifth centenary of Julius II’s bull, the Holy Father wrote a letter to the president of the Swiss episcopal conference and to all the Swiss Guards, both those still in service and those who have been discharged.”
“In his message, the Holy Father recalls the founding of the Guard, their heroic sacrifice during the sack of Rome and his gratitude for their centuries-long faithfulness to the Pontiff,” Mader said.
Of the 189 Swiss Guards on hand in 1527, only 42 survived the attack of emperor Charles V’s troops in defense of Pope Clement VII, whom they accused of maintaining a favorable policy toward France. The Pontiff was saved when he retreated to safety in Castel Sant’Angelo.
Also among the fallen in the service of the Pope is the former commander of the Guard, Alois Estermann, and his wife, killed on May 4, 1998, by the Swiss Guard Cedric Tornay, in a fit of madness.
According to the calendar of commemorative events, next April 7 around 100 former Swiss Guards will begin a commemorative march from Bellinzona in the Swiss canton of Ticino.
The march will cover various stages and, largely following the old pilgrim route known as the Via Francigena, will reach Rome on May 4.
On that day, as 500 years before, the former Swiss Guards will cross the city of Rome where they will be welcomed by the local authorities, then proceed to St. Peter’s Square, where they will receive the Holy Father’s blessing.
May 6, the main day of the fifth-centenary celebrations, will begin with a commemorative Mass in St. Peter’s Basilica.
A wreath of flowers will then be laid in the Square of Roman Protomartyrs inside the Vatican to recall the Swiss Guards who fell during the sack of Rome in 1527.
At 4:30 p.m., the annual swearing-in ceremony for new recruits will take place; for the first time it will be held in St. Peter’s Square, rather than in the San Damaso courtyard where it normally takes place. In the evening, a fireworks display over Castel Sant’Angelo will conclude the day.
Also planned is an issue of Vatican stamps dedicated to the 500th anniversary of the foundation of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.
It is the first time “that a series of stamps has been jointly issued by Switzerland and Vatican City,” Colonel Mader said. The stamps have been designed by the Swiss artist Rudolf Mirer, himself a former Swiss Guard.
The head of the Philatelic and Numismatic Office of the Governorate of Vatican City also announced the coining of a commemorative 2-euro coin, scheduled to be released during the first six months of 2006 and dedicated to the Guard.
Mader pointed out that the Swiss Confederation has issued a gold coin to commemorate the anniversary, also designed by Rudolf Mirer.
Two further coins will be minted for the occasion of the commemorative march: one in gold with the image of Pope Julius II and another in silver, portraying Pope Benedict XVI.
An official medal of the Holy See will also be produced and awarded to current members of the Swiss Guard, according to Mader. Today the Swiss Guard numbers 100 soldiers.