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Insight: The Pontifical Swiss Guards and their roles

CURTAIN RAISER

Stemming from Pontiff, “The Pontifical Swiss Guard” is a minor armed forces and honour guards unit maintained by the Holy See that protects the Pope and the Apostolic Palace, serving as the de facto military of Vatican City.

The Swiss Guard of the Vatican is the only Swiss Guard that is still active today. The unit was founded by Pope Julius II in 1506.

 

 

THE PONTIFICAL SWISS GUARDS AND THEIR ROLES

Who are they?

The Pontifical Swiss guard is a group of Swiss Guards that guard the Vatican City State and the Pope. The Pontifical Swiss guard protects the Pope and its area of operation is in the Vatican, which is the home to the Roman Catholic Pope

The Pontifical Swiss guards are known for their helmets and striped uniforms and they have become one of the most outstanding traditions of the Vatican. These Uniforms originated in the Renaissance. The current Swiss Guard’s three coloured dress uniform is designed to look like the guard uniforms of that period. Every uniform is sewn individually for each guard. The Vatican was often attacked by outsiders before it became a state. Due to the fact that Vatican City is in the center of Rome and the Pope’s household was situated there the Pope’s life was constantly exposed to danger. This led to the establishment of the Pontifical Swiss guard.

Following an alliance with the Swiss confederation, the first group of the Pontifical Swiss guards was welcomed into Vatican City on the 22nd of January, 1506 by Pope Julius II. The group contained 150 guards. Ever since, the Swiss guards have served as the Vatican military force known as the Pontifical Swiss guard. They are the smallest and oldest army in the world and they’ve been guarding Popes since 1506.

Recruitment Qualification 

Due to the sensitive nature of the job, not anyone can qualify to be a Vatican Swiss guard. There are requirements which must be met for one to qualify as a Vatican guard:

First, each recruit must be a faithful Roman Catholic as endorsed by his hometown’s Parish Priest.

Secondly, each recruit must have a Swiss citizenship, and you must be a single male aged between 19 to 30 years (The guards are allowed to marry after serving for some years at the Vatican).

Thirdly, each recruit must have completed basic military training in Switzerland in order to continue to the first five weeks of training with the guards in Rome. After this training period, the Swiss soldiers are known as Halberdiers, owing to their halberds, the primary weapons the Swiss mercenaries used in the 14th and 15th century.

Fourthly, one should be able to obtain a certificate of good conduct. Candidates must also have a high school diploma or a professional degree, should be at least 174 cm.

Lastly, if someone wants to be chosen as a Swiss guard he must go through a process of application.

Swearing ceremony

Qualified and accepted new guards are sworn in on the 6th of May every year in the San Damaso Courtyard in the Vatican (6th May is the anniversary of the Sack of Rome). 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:

I swear that I will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the Supreme Pontiff (name of pope) and his legitimate successors, and dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing, if necessary, my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the Apostolic See is vacant. Furthermore, I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors respect, fidelity, and obedience. I swear to observe all that the honour of my position demands of me”.

Uniform 

The Vatican Swiss guards have official uniforms of blue, red, orange and yellow colours. The uniforms are tailored inside the Pontifical Swiss Guard barracks. The guards also have some equipment: both traditional and modern arms including a sword, command baton, flamberge, partisan, etc.

Their role

The Pontifical Swiss guards also perform ceremonial duties. Because of their responsibilities at the Vatican City, the role of the Vatican police is very crucial to the operation of the Vatican. When you enter the gates of Vatican City, you will meet the Vatican Swiss guard who will check you and give you directions on where you want to go. The guards also work closely with the Pope. During the public masses, these guards are the ones responsible for the overall security of the Pope.

 

When to talk or not to talk a Swiss guard

One cannot just see a Swiss guard and talk to him. there are signs that shows when to talk or not to talk to a Swiss guard on duty. When a Swiss guard is standing still with the halberd and is not talking, he is on Honour Duty. This means that he should not be approached. However, when a Swiss Guard is standing with folded hands and facing the people, he is on Guard Duty. This means that he may be approached for questions or sometimes for pictures as a souvenir of your visit to the Vatican.

Authored by Rev. Fr. Stephen Kofi Sakpaku//AGNUS-DEI MEDIA

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