The Swiss Guard – Vatican Visit with Kids
The Swiss Guard – Bodyguards to the Pope
The mission of the famous colorfully clad Swiss Guard has not changed in more than 500 years. The mission, since 1506, is…
“to protect the pope and his residence”
The Swiss Guard – Who are these guys in the crazy uniform?
The Swiss Guard is the last remaining group of hired warriors from Switzerland.
They are all:
*Male – no ladies allowed
*between 19 and 30 years of age
*At least 5′ 8″ tall
*Have earned a high school diploma at a minimum
*have served in the Swiss Army
*agreed to a minimum of 2 years
*have be moral and ethical
*pass an interview
The Swiss Guard – The Swiss Guard Uniform
The most striking thing you’ll notice about the Swiss Guard costume during your visit to Vatican City on your Rome holiday is their colorful and unusual uniforms. The urban legend says that Michelangelo or Raphael personally designed the uniforms, but it is just that – an urban legend.
In fact, the modern uniforms were designed by Jules Respond who was the head honcho of the Swiss Guard between 1910 – 1921. As colorful and dramatic as these uniforms seem now, they were based on uniforms commonly worn by soldiers during the Renaissance.
The dress uniforms, the guards will be wearing during your Vatican City visit, will be blue, red, orange, and yellow. The blousy ballooning sleeves and pants remind me of something Juliet would wear! The uniforms do not have a rank indication on them because that is indicated by a different type of spear.
Day to day the regular uniform is shaped the same, with blousy sleeves and pant legs – though not as full, but is solid blue. The hat is a french style beret in black or they will wear a helmet with a large red plume.
Something to think about and ask the kids. Is it a good idea to have rank visible on uniforms? Enemies would be able to tell who was the highest ranking officer at a glance. Is this a good idea? Is it a bad idea?
Are you visiting Vatican City with the kids? They’ll enjoy the color by Roman numerals picture of the Swiss Guards in the Kids Travel Book on Rome! Get yours today!
The Swiss Guard Vatican – Swiss Guard Weapons
Are the members of the Swiss Guard armed? Yes, they are. In spite of the fact that the uniform might seem a little ‘fluffy’ or feminine with the white Peter Pan collar and the blousy sleeves and pants, this is an elite group of soldiers.
The main weapon is a halberd. What is a halberd? I had to look it up! Basically a halberd is a spear with a very long handle. When wearing the dress uniform, weapons vary according to rank. All soldiers carry a dress sword but the handle varies with the higher ranking officers having swords with elaborate designs.
Swiss guard members who are in the position to actually guard the pope carry modern pistols such as the SIG P220 and the SIG SG 550 rifle or the SIG SG 552. The swiss guard members who guard the pope and wear plain clothes use both the Glock 19 and the Heckler & Koch MP7.
These are real military trained guards. Don’t let the fancy uniform and old fashioned long sword fool you. They are armed with modern weapons under those fancy duds.
The Swiss Guard Vatican – Training Requirements
The Swiss Guard members are an elite trained group of military professionals. Originally, the Swiss Guard was an army that acted on behalf of the pope and the Catholic church. Now, the Swiss Guard protects the pope and Vatican City.
Mercenaries were hired from Switzerland during the middle ages and they fought valiantly in foreign wars. Over the years the Switzers, as they were called until the 19th century, were contracted warriors with a reputation for being fearsome. These warriors were feared and admired for their unique fighting style, take no prisoners and record of victories.
One type of soldier, in particular, was the pikeman. This soldier held a very long spear with a sharp point on the end. These soldiers would hold the spear with the pointed end toward the enemy. When the pikemen all stood together, the points were formidable and no one could get past them.
In addition to being trained to use modern weapons, the unit is trained with the early weapons of the pike and the halberd.
The Swiss Guard Vatican – Are they an Army?
Yes, the Swiss Guard is an army – the smallest army in the world for the smallest country. There are between 115-145 soldiers as a part of this unit to guard the pope. Some wear uniforms and others are plain clothes and members of the unit travel with the pope when he travels as well.
Even though the Swiss Guard is an elite military army with the fierce military history they are not the only group that protects the pope and Vatican City.
Vatican City also has a policy force called Gendarmerie Corps of Vatican City State. They provide additional security along with traffic assistance and help with any investigations for the Vatican City. This unit doubles the size of security as it is about the same size as the Swiss Guard.
Swiss Guard Facts – Are they all single?
Well, they all have to start out single! They are permitted to marry if they fulfill the following requirements.
Requirements for a Swiss Guard to marry:
*Must be 25 years old
*Must have served at least 3 years
*Must have the rank of at least corporal
*Agrees to at least 3 more years of service
Swiss Guard Facts – What are the benefits?
The Swiss Guard is all about honor. This is an elite group and they are proud to continue the historical practice of being very serious warriors for hire.
The pay is low – only 1500 euros per month. They do get free room and board at barracks in Vatican City and the 1500 euors are tax free.
Vacation? What is a vacation? The Swiss Guards only get 30 days off a year. No automatic weekend time off. They work ALL the days except for those 30. They work 6 days and then get 3 days of reserve duty. They don’t really get any ‘time off’. The 30 days a year are reserved for deployment, but they are days off if their services aren’t needed.
Long hours are a part of the deal. They often work for 8 hour stretches without sitting down.
No drinking in uniform if anyone can see you – not just ‘no drinking alcohol’ but no drinking at all – no water, tea, coffee…nothing. They can’t be photographed drinking so if they are stationed in a spot where tourists can see them…not drinking. It gets hot in Italy so this is especially harsh.
Food! The chefs are a team of nuns from the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis Serving the Poor, known more simply as the ‘Albertine Sisters‘ cook all meals for the guards and often cook Swiss specialties to give everyone there a little taste of home.
Sports! Vatican City has it’s own soccer/football team called FC Guardia and they play against teams like the museum Guard football team or the Vatican City police force team.
Music! Those who are interested in either playing their instrument or taking up a new one can play in the Swiss Guard’s band.
The Swiss Guard Vatican – Are they a dying breed?
It is getting harder and harder to recruit for this elite position guarding the pope and Vatican City State. Why?
Now, only 30% of the population of Switzerland is Catholic. Of those 30%…. the recruits have to be male, tall enough, and interested in working long, long hours for little pay.
Perhaps the ranks will be open to women one day but they will need to go through the military training and service in Switzerland. At the moment, this training in Switzerland is mandatory for men, but not women. Women may volunteer though so perhaps one will end up in the ranks of the elite Swiss Guard.
Swiss Guard Vatican – Crime in Vatican City
With literally millions of people visiting Vatican City State every single year the crime rate is very low. Crimes are most commonly things like purse snatching and pick pocketing, but no place is completely safe though – not even the home to the pope.
In 1998, a low ranking guard killed his superior officer and his wife before killing himself. Alois Esterman was murdered the day he was named to the highest rank in the Swiss Guard – Commander of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. No one is sure why Cedric Tornay, who was a corporal, murdered his superior officer and his wife, but one theory is that he was angry after being passed over for an award. Another theory is that Tornay was a jilted lover, when Esterman broke off their relationship in favor of another member of the Swiss Guard.
The Vatican City bank has been accused of laundering money and financial crimes concerning money set aside for a children’s hospital. Real crimes? Conspiracy theories? It is hard to say, but some say that even Mother Teresa had a secret account here worth millions.
Vatican City is amazing and a MUST visit if you find yourself in Rome, the Eternal City.
Natalie, The Educational Tourist