Fearless and loyal soldiers
Their courage, devotion and stamina have been fascinating the lords, dukes and emperors of different countries and nations for five centuries. They protected the lives of 42 Popes. They were immortalized in the works of Molière and Stendhal. They are the symbol of the Vatican and the smallest army on the planet. They have fancy uniforms and fearless hearts. They are the Pontifical Swiss Guard!
The Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded in 1506 by the Pope Julius II. He was a great leader and he had established peace and order in the ecclesiastical state. However, he’s often called The Fearsome Pope due to the constant wars he waged during his pontificate. Surely the commander needed loyal troops, and Julius II gave his preference to the Swiss soldiers who served in various European countries and by that time were considered the best soldiers of Europe. Scared of treacherous intrigues, Julius didn’t trust his compatriots. That is why he requested 150 guards from Zurich and Lucerne for his protection.
At first the Romans laughed the foreigners but soon the guards got a chance to prove their devotion to make everybody take them seriously. The only actual war the Guard participated in took place in 1527. This incident went down in history as «Sacco di Roma» – the sack of Rome. The King of Spain Carlos I wanted to kill the Pope Clement VII. 147 guardsmen and their commandant died protecting the life of the pontiff. In memory of this heroic feat, the 6th of May nowadays is the day when the recruits take the oath.
How do you like this fancy Renaissance-styled uniform? It was created by commandant Jules Repond in 1914. Some say he got inspired by one of the Rafael’s images that had similar elements. Other people believe that the uniform was sewed using the paintings of Michelangelo!
Every guardsman has two suits: casual and the one for special occasions. The parade uniform is called «gala». It exists in two variants: gala and grand gala — «the great dress». The guards wear grand gala for the special ceremonies only – the suit consists of 154 details and weighs more than 8 pounds. Seems like not the lightest parade uniform, huh?
Apart from an honorable job the guardsmen receive a salary of about 1300 euros! During his first year a recruit gets a place of living, a uniform and (which might be the most important) food for free! Already thinking about becoming a guardsman?
Well, the rules are pretty strict. In order to join the Guard you must be a single Swiss man of between 18 and 25 years and at least 5 ft. tall. You must be catholic, have finished high school, have completed basic training with the Swiss Armed Forces and have received positive recommendations from the authorities. You cannot wear a beard or a mustache and if you want to get married, your fiancé must be catholic and you must have the rank of corporal at least.
Today the Swiss Guard is one of the Vatican’s symbols. Although no solemn or diplomatic ceremony can be held without them, don’t take them for the folk characters! Their main purpose – protecting the pontiff – hasn’t changed. They guard the entrances to the Vatican, the Pope’s and the state secretary’s apartments control the access to the city and even give reference information to the tourists!
Fantastic Switzerland – homeland of the most fearless and loyal guards in the world!