Keys: What is a Swiss guard?

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They can be seen guarding the entrances of the Holy See. Their presence does not go unnoticed. It's the Swiss Guard, whose colorful uniform is clearly recognized, and many tourists do not hesitate to pose in front of them.

What is the Pontifical Swiss Guard?

It's military corps that are responsible for the security of the pope and the Holy See. It was founded in January 1506, when Pope Julius II asked the Swiss nobility for protection.

What is the structure of the army?

The Swiss Guard is not a simple tourist attraction, but rather a military corps with very precise functions.

Swiss Guard
“We are the smallest army in the world. At the moment, it's composed of 110 men. In the future, we would like to reach 135. We have a military structure, that is, there is a commander, who has the rank of colonel, and then there are five other officers. The chaplain is considered a lieutenant colonel. Next come the non-commissioned officers, the sergeants, the first corporals, corporals and the regular troops, called the alabarderos, which are 78.”

What are the requirements to enter?

They must be Catholic, possess Swiss citizenship and have passed basic instruction in the Swiss Armed Forces. But there are other requirements that are more specific. They must measure more than 5'7”, be between 19 and 30 years old and have a high school degree. Finally, their marital status must be single. To be allowed to marry, the guards must be at least 25 years old, have served at least three years of military service, commit to serve three more years and have at least the rank of corporal.

Why do they have such a colorful uniform?

Swiss Guard
“Our uniform bears the colors of the families that gave popes to the Church. There is the Rovere family and the family of Pope Julius II, our founder. There are also the colors of the Medici family, the family of Pope Clement VII, who we saved in 1527.”

An historical event

On May 6, 1527, the Swiss Guards confronted Emperor Charles V of the Holy Roman Empire troops. They fought in front of St. Peter's Basilica, and the guards moved to the steps of the main altar. Only 42 soldiers survived, who formed a circle around Pope Clement VII, allowing him to escape through the Passetto di Borgo, a secret passageway that connects with Castel Sant'Angelo.

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