Rice, Holly

Today, the Swiss Guard often refers to the Pontifical Swiss Guard of the Holy See currently in the Vatican in Rome, but Swiss mercenaries have been hired as guards and soldiers for European countries since the late 15th century. Many young men left Switzerland because it was a poor country and it was easier to earn their fortune elsewhere. During the 15th century, they were considered some of the most powerful troops in the world because of their discipline, loyalty and revolutionary battle tactics. It wasn’t until the beginning of the 16th century that Swiss bishop Matthäus Schiner, acting on behalf of Pope Julius II, proposed the development of a permanent Swiss contingent that would work under the direct control of the pope as the Pontifical Swiss Guard. During the Sack of Rome on May 6, 1527, 147 Swiss Guards were killed protecting Pope Clement VII.Since then, the Pontifical Swiss Guard has been in charge of the safety of the pope and security of the Apostolic Palace and are now considered a de facto military of Vatican City.

The main purpose of the Pontifical Swiss Guard is to ensure the protection of the Pope. Guard members must have at least had basic Swiss military training and are further trained before they are sworn into the Guard. The Swiss Guard acts as a separate means of protection from the Vatican government at they are controlled strictly by the Catholic Church with the sole job of keeping the Pope and the Apostolic Palace safe and secure. They control who is allowed to go in and out of the palace, and follow the Pope as bodyguards, and do not have any jobs outside of these main duties.

Today, the Swiss Guard act as much as a symbol of the tradition and strength of the Catholic Church and Holy Roman Empire as well as soldiers. There presence in the Vatican offers a symbol of the measures of protection the Pope has had throughout history, and the sacrifice men are willing to take in order to keep this religious figure safe.  They still wear their armor and striped uniform as an outward sign of their historical relevance. They also act as a representation of the Swiss and their devotion to the Catholic church, all of the soldiers having to be Swiss, Catholic and male in order to join.