Pope Francis

Vatican Swiss Guard gets 40 new troops on anniversary of bloody Rome battle to protect pope

The spear-holding Swiss Guards have a cache of more modern weapons stashed away in a secret location

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 07 May, 2017, 1:24pm
UPDATED : Sunday, 07 May, 2017, 11:28pm

The world’s oldest standing army has 40 new members after a Vatican Swiss Guard swearing-in ceremony.

Each man took a loyalty oath Saturday evening in a ritual-rich ceremony in the St. Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace. The May 6 date commemorates the day in 1527 when 147 guardsmen died while protecting Pope Clement VII during the Sack of Rome.

Earlier Saturday, Pope Francis told the Guards they’re called to “another sacrifice no less arduous” — serving the power of faith.

The 40 new Swiss Guards will be joining an army created in 1506 when Pope Julius II recruited the supposedly invincible mercenaries for his protection.

Wearing blue-and-gold uniforms and holding halberds — spear-like weapons — they are a tourist delight while standing guard at Vatican ceremonies. Their main duty is to protect the pope.

But the pope’s 110 Swiss Guards do have a cache of more modern weapons than the halberd, stashed away in a secret location.

“There are two ways of defending the pope: with weapons and with faith,” said commander, Christoph Graf.

Like thousands of predecessors, the 40 new guards will swear a solumn oath to “faithfully, loyally and honourably serve” Pope Francis “with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life” in the pontiff’s defence.

Not anyone can be a Swiss Guard. Applicants have to be a practising Roman Catholic, Swiss, single, between 19 and 30 years old and at least 1.74 metres tall.

Being a Swiss Guard is an extremely physically demanding job, involving long periods of standing guard motionless.

Pascal Burch, a 21-year-old German-speaking recent recruit, said “the pain begins first in the knees, then the feet start to hurt and then the shoulders”.

Dylan Voirol, a 24-year-old who has been a Swiss Guard for 11 months, also describes “moments of physical difficulty ... but you get through it with faith”.

He started out as a guard of honour but now serves as a night patrol officer, dressed in more practical gear of a blue doublet and trousers.

“At night, we go running around the Vatican gardens” if the pope is out, jokes Voirol.

“We know what time he leaves. Discretion is a Swiss quality.”

The Swiss Guards now enjoy a more personal relationship with Pope Francis, seen as being less attached to strict papal protocol than his predecessors.

“The pope greets everyone. It wasn’t like that before,” said Graf, recalling a time when “the Swiss Guards never spoke to the pope”.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse