When we see images of the Vatican one of the details that tends to catch our eye are the gentlemen who suit themselves in blue, gold, and red, and stand as statue-like figures throughout the scape of the papal quarters. These are the men of the Swiss Guard, but how much do we really know about their stoic presence? Here are ten Facts You Should Know:
1. The history of the Swiss Guard dates back to Pope Julius II when he first invited the Helvetian soldiers to Rome in 1506; by 1512 these troops had become known as “Defenders of the Church’s Freedom.”
2. Historically, January 22, 1506, is cited as the official birthdate of the Pontifical Swiss Guard when the first one hundred fifty troops were blessed by the pontiff. Since then, the makeup of the guard has undergone minor revisions with the occurrence of various security threats. Still today, the guard stands firm and ready to defend our Holy Father and the Vatican City-State.
3. The rigorous requirements for one who wishes to enter the Swiss Guard include: Swiss citizenship, good-standing with the Church, completion of special military training, between 19 and 30 years old, at least 5’ 8” tall, single, and at least a high school education or its equivalent.
4. The Swiss Guard’s current uniform is a fairly recent modification, dating back to its 1914 introduction. It is, however, inspired by some of the earliest garb worn by the guard.
5. Every year on May 6th, new recruits take their oath of loyalty to “faithfully, loyally, and honorably serve” the pontiff. This day commemorates the historic “Sack of Rome” in 1527 when some 147 troops lost their lives in defense of the Church.
6. The three patrons of the Swiss guard are: St. Martin of Tours, a soldier turned monk (November 11); St. Sebastian (January 20) who is also a patron of soldiers; and St. Niklaus von Flüe (September 25) who is the patron of Switzerland.
7. Each day some two-thirds of the guard is mounted at the entrances of the Apostolic Palace, others keep pace with the pope when he is abroad or in public at all; they act as a secret-service of sorts.
8. In addition to their primary duties as guards, these men continue to stay up to date through various briefings, to stay disciplined through drills and marching and continue their military training including regular shooting practice.
9. They also participate in more leisurely activities such as the guard band, choir, and sports! Divisions of the guard actually form teams and play against one another!