Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Swiss Guards in the Vatican await a new Pope.

Swiss Guards salute cardinals at the Vatican yesterday.
Photo: Andrew Medichini, AP

General Congregations of 115 elector Cardinals from a total of 207 started yesterday in the Vatican to discuss current issues in the Catholic Church and the election of a new pope: cardinals over 80 take part in the discussions but do not have a vote.

Swiss Guards have been responsible for the Pope’s safety since 1506.  Recruits must be Swiss, Catholic single males between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174 cm or 5 ft. 8½” tall.  They also need to have a high school diploma and to have done basic training in the Swiss Army.

New guards sign on for a minimum of two years and swear to lay down their lives for the Pope if necessary.  Guards can marry after three years’ service once they are 25, sign on for another three years and have reached the rank of Corporal.  Guards receive a tax-free salary of 1300 euros per month plus overtime, free board and accommodation.

The training is intensive and has been stepped up since the assassination attempt on Pope John Paul II in 1981 by Mehmet Ali Ağca: small arms, martial arts, restraint and control techniques are taught as well as the traditional ceremonial rites, Italian and computer courses. 

Swiss Guards have a fancy set of uniforms which date back to the Renaissance and are very heavy, weighing 3.6 kg., or 8 pounds.  The dress uniform is knickerbockers and jackets of blue, yellow and orange stripes with red cuffs and feathers over their helmets.  They wear matching striped spats over their boots, white gloves, ruffs or high collars.  Dark blue capes are worn in cold weather.  Officers have even fancier furbelows.  Purple ostrich feathers on helmets are worn for special ceremonies.  On duty the uniforms are simpler but still formal. Guards also at times are required to wear plain clothes on duty.

Duty uniform
Uniform with armour and halberd

There were 135 members of the Swiss Guard in 2005.  Their chaplain says Mass daily for the any of their members: the Commandant, Colonel, three officers, one sergeant major, 30 NCOs, and 99 halberdiers. The latter carry halberds on occasions and wear chest armour.

Close-up of helmets and ruffs worn by Swiss Guards 

Some guards belong to the Vatican City football team in their spare time.  Many guards leave service for lucrative jobs with some of the world's best-known security services and banks.  In 2009, the commandant of the Swiss Guard, Daniel Anrig hinted that the Guard might recruit women, but that this remained far in the future.

Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI will be guarded in future by Vatican security guards.