Swiss Guard: ‘Military adventure’ beyond the Vatican walls

By Gonzalo Sanchez

Vatican City, Apr 29 (EFE).- The Swiss Guard, one of the oldest active armies in the world, has been at the pope’s service for five centuries and continues to draw in young people seeking a “military adventure” steeped in history.

In a week around 20 new officers will pledge their sacred oath to the service.

Inside the barracks, next to the Vatican’s St Anne’s Gate, a sense of excitement and apprehension wafts through the air.

Swiss soldiers polish their helmets and metal breastplates, adjust their armor pairs, polish their boots, and sort out their iconic red, blue, and yellow uniforms.

Eleven soldiers and two drummers are rehearsing the march in the courtyard under the stern gaze of a General who corrects every flaw.

“Don’t move like robots, listen to the music,” he bellows.


On May 6, 23 new officers will join the iconic army at a solemn ceremony in the Courtyard of St. Damasco.

On that day the soldiers will pledge their allegiance to the Pope with centuries-old words:

“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.”

The Guard has served under the Pope since 1506, when Julius II turned to the Swiss soldiers, who were already guarding other European courts, to establish an army for the Roman Catholic Church.

May 6 is the most important date for the military unit. In 1527, German and Spanish troops under Charles V captured Rome in a bid to wield power over Pope Clement VII. The pope was backing France as a power struggle gripped Europe.

The pontiff was protected by 189 Swiss soldiers, of whom only 42 survived, and thanks to them he was able to take refuge in the Castel Sant’Angelo by escaping through a secret corridor.


The pillaging that took place during the Sack of Rome can still be seen in the bullet holes that pierced the walls or the graffiti left on a banker’s house by a German soldier: “Why can’t I laugh? We made the pope run”.

But another reminder of the tumultuous period is the presence of the loyal Swiss soldiers within the Vatican’s walls.

They protect the pope, travel with him on his trips and guard the gates to the Papal State.

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