A red plumed high-crested helmet and a uniform made of alternate blue and yellow stripes with a touch of red, puffy sleeves and breeches, and the halberd, which dates back to the Middle Ages, as a weapon of choice: this is the colourful and amazing outfit which makes the appearance of the Papal Swiss Guards so magnificent and unique, really deserving its fame! It is commonly thought that it was designed by Michelangelo, but what we actually know is only that it was deeply influenced by Renaissance fashion and politics, especially for the yellow and blue colours as a hint to the papal Della Rovere family, with the later addition of red to also celebrate the Florentine Medici family.
How to enjoy the view of this multicolour uniform, in a vivid multitude and a joyful atmosphere? Be around the Vatican on May 6th and attend the wonderful swearing-in ceremony when the new recruits of the papal army take their solemn oath of loyalty to the Pope in the San Damaso Courtyard, in the presence of high members of the Church and military representatives of the Swiss Confederation, together with hundred and hundred relatives, friends and fans! The commitment ceremony opens with the Chaplain solemnly reading the words of the oath; then, the new affiliates advance, one by one, called by name, and repeat his same words, with the Guard’s standard in their left hand and the right hand raised with three fingers open to glorify the Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Only young Catholics, who are also Swiss citizens, under 30 years of age and with a military education taken in their country of origin (...and at least 174cm tall!) can have the honour to enter such a noble and great army and serve the pope. This makes them very special and the papal troops a unique military body, worth to see especially on such a wonderful and exultant day.
At first, the date of May 6th was not a bright day at all in the history of the Swiss Guards and the Church itself, but instead a very dark day. On May 6th 1527, the Sack of Rome took place and 147 Helvetian soldiers were massacred on the steps of the main altar of St. Peter’s Basilica, while fighting again Spanish and German troops, who had attacked Rome and entered the Vatican, and while heroically guarding Pope Clement VII’s retreat to safety in Castel Sant’Angelo.
When this event happened, the Pontifical Swiss Guard had officially come into existence since some years and was already renowned for its bravery, loyalty and moral nobility, so that its soldiers had been granted by the Pope the title of “Defenders of the Church”. The official date of birth is January 22nd, 1506, when a group of 150 Swiss soldiers entered for the first time the Vatican to be blessed by Pope Julius II, after serving for a long time as mercenaries.
Since then, the papal soldiers have always been revered as a glorious example of devotion, courage and integrity and admired for their elegance and education.
Come and see the celebrations: a vivid, lively and majestic view, that will bring you deep into the roots of Roman and Vatican history and traditions in a day full of joy, happiness and hope!