VATICAN CITY (LifeSiteNews) – On Friday, May 6, 36 new recruits of the Pontifical Swiss Guard swore their oath of allegiance to the Pope, vowing to defend his person even at the cost of their own lives. The solemn swearing-in ceremony of the Swiss Guard took place at the Vatican, according to tradition, on the day that commemorates the sacrifice of the 147 soldiers who fell in battle defending Pope Clement VII during the sack of Rome in 1527.
In the presence of the Pope’s representative, Monsignor Edgar Peña Parra, the guards took the oath on the flag of the Swiss Guard. Raising their right hand and pointing three fingers in honor of the Persons of the Trinity, the guards promised to protect and defend the reigning Pope and all his legitimate successors, even at the risk of their own lives, following the example of their forebears.
Each guard declared, “I swear to serve faithfully, loyally, and honorably the reigning Pontiff and his legitimate successors, to devote myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing, if necessary, even my life in their defense. I assume the same duties towards the College of Cardinals during the vacancy of the Apostolic See. I also promise the Commander and the other Superiors respect, fidelity, and obedience. Thus I swear, may God and our Holy Patrons assist me.”
On the occasion of the annual swearing-in ceremony, in an exclusive interview with LifeSiteNews, Church historian Justin Lone gave the story of how this small army came to be the personal bodyguard of the Pope in the Vatican.
Lone recounted the famous story of the defense of Pope Clement VIII, when the soldiers of Charles V, then the Holy Roman Emperor, rose in mutiny against the emperor and sacked and pillaged the city of Rome.
On May 6, 1527, tens of thousands of soldiers descended on the Vatican from the north. As Lone recounted, “147 of the 189 Guards, including their commander Caspar Röist, died fighting the mutinous troops of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V during the Sack of Rome, in order to allow Pope Clement VIII to escape through the Passetto di Borgo, escorted by the other 42 guards.”
With the invading force held back, the Pope had just enough time to escape. The soldiers escorted the Pope along the turreted wall, Passetto di Borgo, which stands behind the colonnade of St. Peter’s Square on the north, connecting the Apostolic Palace of the Pope to the Castel Sant’angelo, a fortress that stands on the Tiber.
Citing another example of Swiss loyalty in the face of death, Lone said it was the Swiss mercenary army that defended the palace of the French king during the French Revolution, where “600 of the 900 soldiers who were there died.”
The Swiss “had this unquestionable loyalty, total loyalty” to those whom they served, Lone explained. It was this loyalty that made the Swiss the choice guard for Pope Julius II in 1506, when the Pontiff instituted the Swiss Guard at the Vatican.
The Swiss Guard has survived the defeat and abolition of the Papal States in 1870, at which time “four small papal units (the Pontifical Swiss Guard, the Noble Guard, the Palatine Guard, and the Papal Gendarmerie Corps) were retained, but their activity restricted to the Vatican.” After further changes to the papal guards by St. Paul VI in 1970, the Swiss Guard was exclusively retained as the Pope’s bodyguard.
Since 1914, following a reform under St. Pius X, Swiss Guard commander Jules Repond “re-organized the guard corps, whose service had become a very relaxed position of purely ceremonial nature, introducing rigorous military exercise.”
The Swiss Guard also played an important role in the pontificate of St. John Paul II, rushing to his rescue in the assassination attempt of May 13, 1981, in St. Peter’s Square. “Since then, a much stronger emphasis has been placed on the guard’s non-ceremonial roles. The soldiers today are, for example, trained in martial art,” Lone recounted.
Today, the Swiss Guard is a “highly trained military” of young men willing to sacrifice their lives for the protection of the Roman Pontiff. The official website of the Swiss Guard can be found here.