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What is the Swiss Guard?

Updated on April 2, 2013
Halberds | Source

Who are those guys in the funny uniforms?

Have you ever wondered about those men in the black berets that guard the Vatican and the Pope. The Swiss Guard of the Vatican have the most colorful of military uniforms. They wear the Medici family colors of blue red and yellow. It is often reported that Michelangelo designed the uniform originally, but that is not true. However, another artist by the name of Raffaello did according to the Vatican play a part in the uniform's design as his paintings were of a some fashion influence during the Renaissance.

The day to day uniform worn by the guards is all blue with a white collar. For those interested in the design of the Swiss Guard uniforms I have included a link here for your convenience.

What do the Swiss Guard do?

They actually do protect the Pope and are armed with halberds, see photo. For the most part though they are functionaries, and they add to the pageantry around Vatican City. They make common photographic subjects for tourists with their colorful uniforms.

There are 110 men who are in the Army at the Vatican who are all Catholic, and all former servicemen of the Swiss military. They are between 19-30 years old, and all serve for two years. May 6th is the day of swearing in the new guard. This day correlates with the Sack of Rome. They clutch the order's flag with their left hand and raise up their right hand in a three finger fashion which represents the trinity. They swear allegiance and even death for the Pope.

The men in black

Those men you see that protect the Pope in his car and Pope mobile are also Swiss Guard, but in plainclothes. These men in black suits are trained to be more security personal, whereas the guards in uniforms are soldiers.

For the most part this job is an honor today, but in days past they did have to defend the Vatican and the Pope. During the days of Pope Clement the VII, 147 guards died defending him as he fled to safety while Charles V sacked Rome.

The Oath

"I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff [actual Pope] and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the sacred College of Cardinals whenever the see is vacant. Furthermore I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors, respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!"

So presently the Swiss Guard are protecting the Cardinals in Rome as they begin to elect a new Pope.

© Margaret Bennett

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    • Maggie Bennett profile image

      Maggie Bennett 5 years ago from New York

      Thanks for stopping by Carol. I hope to get there one day son.

    • onegreenparachute profile image

      Carol 5 years ago from Greenwood, B.C., Canada

      I have been to the Vatican and have seen the Swiss Guards but I did not know the story behind them. Thanks Maggie. Very interesting.