The San Damaso Courtyard of the Apostolic Palace will be filled on Tuesday evening with close to 100 of the Pope’s Swiss Guards decked out in their 16th century black, red, and yellow dress uniforms. The occasion for the guards’ en masse appearance is the oath swearing ceremony of 33 new recruits for the papal guard.
Accompanied by their families and friends, the new members will begin the day with a Mass at 7:30 a.m. in St. Peter’s Basilica, celebrated by Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone. This will be followed by a military decoration ceremony led by Archbishop Fernando Filoni and the placing of a laurel wreath at the monument honoring the fallen members of the corps.
At 5 p.m. in the evening, the Swiss Guard will assemble for the oath of fidelity, which will be taken by the 33 new guardsmen. Present for the ceremony will be members of the Roman Curia, diplomatic representatives and civil and religious authorities from Switzerland.
The oath will be taken by 20 of the recruits in German, 11 in French, one in Italian and one in Romansch.
The date on which the ceremony is taking place is significant to the history of the Swiss Guard. May 6, 1527 marks the day that 147 members of the Swiss Guards lost their lives protecting Pope Clement VII during the famous sack of Rome by the troops of Emperor Charles V.
To become a guard, one must be a Swiss Catholic male under the age of 30, unmarried, over 5 feet 8 inches in height and have a professional diploma or high school degree. The candidate must have attended Swiss military school. Guards live inside Vatican City in quarters situated at the foot of the Palace of Sixtus V. The minimum term of service is two years and one month.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard was founded in 1505 when Cardinal Matthaeus Schinner arranged an agreement between Pope Julius II and the two Swiss cantons of Zurich and Lucerne. The main duties of the corps are to guard the person of the Roman Pontiff and the Apostolic Palaces.