Saturday, February 12, 2011

The Swiss Guard - Vatican City

Members of The Swiss Guard - Vatican City title=
Members of The Swiss Guard - Vatican City

A photograph of the swiss guard was on my shot list on our trip to Europe last year. I wanted to get a photograph of their official dress uniforms and I was also interested in finding out a bit more about their  500 year history. Members of the Swiss guard can be easily spotted around St Peter's Cathedral during the day as it is responsible for the Pope's security as well as the security of the Apostolic Palace.

More images and info inside.

A Member of the Swiss Guard - Vatican City
A Member of the Swiss Guard - Vatican City

The inspiration for their official uniforms has been debated for a while. Some say that it was inspired by one of Raphael's paintings of the Swiss Guard carrying Pope Julius II on a litter. The style of uniform worn by those soldiers was said to be common during the Renaissance. A closer version to the modern uniform can be seen in a 1577 fresco by Jacopo Coppi of Empress Eudoxia conversing with Pope Pope Sixtus III. The blue and gold colours on the uniform are said to have been issued by Pope Julius II (his family colours) and the red was issued by Pope Leo to reflect his Medici colours. Apart from the official uniform the Swiss Guard have a more functional "regular duty" uniform as well.

Members of the Swiss Guard - Vatican City
Members of the Swiss Guard - Vatican City

Recruits to the Swiss Guard must be single, Catholic males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic military training and can obtain certificates for good conduct. They should also have a professional degree or a high school diploma, be between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174cm tall. However, in 2009 the Commandant of the Swiss Guard, Daniel Anrig, suggested that women maybe allowed to join the Guard at some stage. He did add that the recruitment of women remained far in the future. New guards are sworn in on the 6th of May (the anniversary of the sack of Rome) each year in the San Damasco courtyard in the Vatican. The term of service is between 2 and 25 years.

Member of the Swiss Guard - Vatican City
Member of the Swiss Guard - Vatican City

The history of the swiss guards originates in the 15th century. A number of Popes, including Sixtus IX, Innocent VIII and Alexander VI, recruited Swiss mercenaries to fight wars. During the Italian wars the mercenaries were regular fixtures in the front lines for both the French and the Holy Roman Empire. The mercenaries enlisted when they heard that King Charles VIII of France was going to raise a war against Naples. Amongst the participants in the war was Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere (Pope Julius II). He knew the swiss as he had been Bishop of Lausanne for a number of years. When Cardinal della Rovere became Pope, he asked the Swiss Diet for a constant corps of 200 mercenaries. The first contingent of 150 Swiss soldiers entered the city of Rome on January 22, 1506.

The most significant battle they engaged in was on May 6, 1527 when 147 of the 189 guards died fighting the troops of Emperor Charles V in the "Stand of the Swiss Guard" during the sack of Rome. The remaining 40 guards escorted Pope Clement VII to escape.

All photographs on this post were captured with a Canon 7D and a 24-105mm lens. 

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