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The Pontifical Swiss Guard (also Papal Swiss Guard, or just Swiss Guard; Latin: Pontificia Cohors Helvetica or Cohors Pedestris Helvetiorum a Sacra Custodia Pontificis; Italian: Guardia Svizzera Pontificia; German: Päpstliche Schweizergarde; French: Garde suisse pontificale) is a small force maintained by the Holy See that is responsible for the safety of the Pope, including the security of the Apostolic Palace. The Swiss Guard serves as the de facto military of Vatican City. Established in 1506 under Pope Julius II, the Pontifical Swiss Guard is among the oldest military units in continuous operation. [14]

The dress uniform is of blue, red, orange and yellow with a distinctly Renaissance appearance. The modern guard has the role of bodyguard of the Pope. The Swiss Guard is equipped with traditional weapons, such as the halberd, as well as with modern firearms. Since the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981, a much stronger emphasis has been placed on the guard's non-ceremonial roles, and has seen enhanced training in unarmed combat and small arms.

Recruits to the guards must be unmarried Swiss Catholic males between 19 and 30 years of age who have completed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces. [15]

History


The Pontifical Swiss Guard has its origins in the 15th century.

The expedition failed, in part thanks to new alliances made by Alexander VI against the French.

In September 1505, the first contingent of 150 soldiers started their march towards Rome, under the command of Kaspar von Silenen, and entered the city on 22 January 1506, today given as the official date of the Guard's foundation. [20] [21]

"The Swiss see the sad situation of the Church of God, Mother of Christianity, and realize how grave and dangerous it is that any tyrant, avid for wealth, can assault with impunity, the common Mother of Christianity," declared Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss Catholic who later became a Protestant reformer. Pope Julius II later granted them the title "Defenders of the Church's freedom". [22]

The force has varied greatly in size over the years and has even been disbanded.

After the end of the Italian Wars, the Swiss Guard ceased to be used as a military combat unit in the service of the pope and its role became mostly that of the protection of the person of the pope and of a ceremonial guard. However, twelve members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard of Pius V served as part of the Swiss Guard of admiral Marcantonio Colonna in the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. [23]

The office of commander of the Papal Guard came to be a special honour in the Catholic part of the Swiss Confederacy. It became strongly associated with the leading family of Lucerne, Pfyffer von Altishofen. Between 1652 and 1847, nine out a total of ten commanders were members of this family (the exception being Johann Kaspar Mayr von Baldegg, also of Lucerne, served 1696–1704).

In 1798, commander Franz Alois Pfyffer von Altishofen went into exile with the deposed Pius VI. After the death of the pope on 29 August 1799, the Swiss Guard was disbanded and only reinstated by Pius VII in 1801. In 1808, Rome was again captured by the French and the guard was disbanded again. Pius VII was exiled to Fontainebleau. The guard was reinstated under the same commander, Karl Leodegar Pfyffer von Altishofen, when the pope returned from exile in 1814.

The guard was disbanded yet again in 1848, when Pius IX fled to Gaeta, but was reinstated when the pope returned to Rome in the following year.

In the later 19th century, the Swiss Guard declined into a purely ceremonial body with low standards.

The modern Swiss Guard is the product of the reforms pursued by Jules Repond, commander during 1910–1921. Repond proposed to recruit only native citizens of Switzerland and he introduced rigorous military exercise. He also attempted to introduce modern arms, but Pius X only permitted the presence of firearms if they were not functional. Repond's reforms and strict discipline were not well received by the corps, culminating in a week of open mutiny in July 1913 and the subsequent dismissal of thirteen ringleaders from the guard.

In his project to restore the Swiss Guard to its former prestige, Repond also dedicated himself to the study of historical costume, with the aim of designing a new uniform that would be both reflective of the historical Swiss costume of the 16th century and suited for military exercise.

The foundation of Vatican City as a modern sovereign state was negotiated in the Lateran Treaty of 1929. The duties of protecting public order and security in the Vatican lay with the Papal Gendarmerie Corps, while the Swiss Guard, the Palatine Guard and the Noble Guard served mostly ceremonial functions. The Palatine and Noble Guards were disbanded by Paul VI in 1970, leaving the Swiss Guard as the only ceremonial guard unit of the Vatican. At the same time, the Gendarmerie Corps was transformed into a Central Security Office, with the duties of protecting the Pope, defending Vatican City, and providing police and security services within its territory, while the Swiss Guard continued to serve ceremonial functions only. Paul VI in a decree of 28 June 1976 defined the nominal size of the corps at 90 men. This was increased to 100 men by John Paul II on 5 April 1979. As of 2010 the guard numbered 107 halberdiers divided into three squads, plus five officers.

Since the assassination attempt on John Paul II of 13 May 1981, a much stronger emphasis has been placed on the guard's non-ceremonial roles. The Swiss Guard has developed into a modern guard corps equipped with modern small arms, and members of the Swiss Guard in plain clothes now accompany the pope on his travels abroad for his protection.

On 4 May 1998 commander Alois Estermann was murdered on the day of his promotion. Estermann and his wife, Gladys Meza Romero, were killed by the young guardsman Cédric Tornay, who later committed suicide. The case received considerable public attention and became the subject of a number of conspiracy theories involving either Cold War politics or the Opus Dei controversy. British journalist John Follain who published a book on the case in 2006 concluded that the killer acted purely on personal motivation.

On the occasion of the 500th anniversary of the Swiss Guard, in April–May 2006, 80 former guardsmen marched from Bellinzona in southern Switzerland to Rome, recalling the march of the original 200 Swiss guards to take up Papal service, in 1505. The march had been preceded by other celebrations in Lucerne, including a rally of veterans of the Guard and a mass. In a public ceremony on 6 May 2006, 33 new guards were sworn in on the steps of St. Peter's Basilica instead of the traditional venue in the San Damaso Courtyard. The date chosen marked the anniversary of the Sack of Rome when the Swiss Guard had been nearly destroyed. Present at this event were representatives of the Company of Pikemen and Musketeers of the Honourable Artillery Company of London and the Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts.

In December 2014, Pope Francis directed that Daniel Anrig's term as commander should end on 31 January 2015, being replaced by his deputy Christoph Graf. This followed reports about Anrig's "authoritarian style". [24]

With the rise of Islamic terrorism in Europe and open threats against the Vatican issued by the Islamic State (ISIS), Vatican officials in 2015 collaborated with Italian authorities to improve the protection of Vatican City against attacks that cannot be reasonably defended against by the Swiss Guard and Vatican police, notably against drone attacks. [28]

Recruitment and service


Recruits to the guards must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces and can obtain certificates of good conduct. Recruits must have a professional degree or high school diploma and must be between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174 cm (5 ft 8.5 in) tall. [15] In 2009, the Pontifical Swiss Guard commandant, Daniel Anrig, suggested that the Guard might someday be open to recruiting women, but he added that the admission of female recruits remained far in the future.

Qualified candidates must apply to serve.

When his name is called, each new guard approaches the Pontifical Swiss Guard's flag, grasping the banner in his left hand. He raises his right hand with his thumb, index, and middle finger extended along three axes, a gesture that symbolizes the Holy Trinity, and swears in his native tongue:

"Those who are accepted serve for a minimum of two years, but can also stay in service for an additional year or two, which was the case for many guards during last year’s Jubilee of Mercy."

Uniforms


The official dress uniform is of blue, red, orange and yellow with a distinctly Renaissance appearance. It was introduced by commandant Jules Repond (1910–1921) in 1914. [34] Repond's design was inspired by 16th-century depictions of the Swiss Guard. While both Michelangelo and a painting of the Pontifical Swiss Guard bearing Pope Julius II on a litter (by Raphael) are often cited as inspiration for the Pontifical Swiss Guard uniform, [34] the actual uniforms worn by those soldiers included a flaring skirt; [14] a common feature in male clothing during the Renaissance. A clear expression of the modern Pontifical Swiss Guard uniform can be seen in a 1577 fresco by Jacopo Coppi of the Empress Eudoxia conversing with Pope Sixtus III. It shows the precursor of today's recognizable three-colored uniform with boot covers, white gloves, a high or ruff collar, and either a black beret or a black Comb morion (silver for high occasions). Sergeants wear a black top with crimson leggings, while other officers wear an all-crimson uniform. The colours blue and yellow were in use from the 16th century, said to be chosen to represent the Della Rovere coat of arms of Julius II, with the colour red added to represent the Medici coat of arms of Leo X.

The ordinary guardsmen and the sub-corporals wear the "tricolor" (yellow, blue and red) uniform without any rank distinctions except for a different model of halberd in gala dress.

The commissioned officers (Captains, Major, Vice-Commander and Commander) are distinguished by a completely red uniform with a different style of breeches, and golden embroidery on the sleeves.

The tailors of the Swiss Guard work inside the Vatican barracks.

The modern regular duty uniform is more functional, consisting of a simpler solid blue version of the more colorful tricolor grand gala uniform, worn with a simple brown belt, a flat white collar and a black beret.

Equipment


The eponymous main weapon of the halbardiers is the halberd; corporals and vice-corporals are equipped with a partisan polearm. Ranks above corporal do not have polearms, but on certain ceremonial occasions carry command batons. The banner is escorted by two flamberge great swords carried by corporals or vice-corporals. A dress sword is carried by all ranks, swords with a simple S-shaped crossguard by the lower ranks, and elaborate basket-hilt rapiers in the early baroque style by officers.

Arms and armour used by the Swiss Guard are kept in the Armeria (armoury).

The Swiss Guard in their function as bodyguards are equipped with the SIG P220 pistol and the SIG SG 550 rifle (or its SG 552 variant) also in use by the Swiss Army. As recruits to the Swiss Guard must have passed basic military training in Switzerland, they are already familiar with these weapons when they begin their service. The pepper spray used by the Swiss Army (RSG-2000) is also in use. The Glock 19 pistol and Heckler & Koch MP7 submachine gun are reportedly also carried by Swiss Guard members in their function as plainclothes bodyguards. [41]

In the 19th century (prior to 1870), the Swiss Guard along with the Papal Army used firearms with special calibres such as the 12,7 mm Remington Papal. [43] The Swiss Guard historically also used the M1842 T.59-67, 1871 Vetterli, Schmidt-Rubin K31 and SIG SG 510 rifles, the Dreyse M1907 pistol, and the SIG MKMO, Hispano-Suiza MP43/44 and Heckler & Koch MP5 submachine guns. [41]

Ranks and insignia


Banner


The design of the banner of the Pontifical Swiss Guard banner has been changed several times.

The modern design of the banner was first used under commander Jules Repond of Freiburg (1910–1921).

Even though the banner is carried out during ceremonies and the Urbi et Orbi address and blessing twice a year, during the current term of Pope Francis, only the Flag of Vatican City is used instead of the banner during ceremonial occasions as a sort of National Colour whenever the Pope is present.

See also


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