Visitors to the Holy See are often fascinated by the colorful uniforms worn by the Swiss Guards when serving the Pope. While the Pontiff is present in the United States, the American Secret Service will work closely with the Swiss Guards for the protection of the Holy Father.
Since their introduction to the Vatican in 1506, the uniform of the Swiss Guards has remained relatively unchanged. Popular myth has it that the elaborate costume of the Guards was designed by Michelangelo. However, according to the official Vatican website of the Swiss Guards, the reality is the design is from Raffaello.
January 22, 1506 marked the Guards’ first entrance into the Vatican when they were sanctioned and blessed by Pope Julius II. Ever since that time they have been the constant bodyguards designated for the exclusive protection of the Holy Father. During the sack of the city of Rome the Swiss Guards protected the Holy Father and on May 6, 1527 189 members of the Guard sacrificed their lives to protect the Pontiff. Only forty-two guards remained after the battle, however the papal palaces were secured and the Pope safe. Every year on this day, new members of the Swiss Guards are sworn into the Guard, with a specific oath of personal allegiance to protect, the person of the Holy Father, even till the death.
Today the Swiss Guards are responsible for all of the activities at the Vatican, from directing traffic to crowd control at Papal events. Their everyday uniform is dark blue; however they still carry the traditional pikes and weapons of their medieval predecessors. The Swiss Guards however are not a personal protective force to be taken lightly. According to their web site, the Swiss Guards are trained in all aspects of modern protective capabilities. They work in close unison with the Italian police and foreign governments when papal trips are planned to ensure the constant protection of the Pope.
When the Swiss Guards are on duty outside of the Vatican, they can be most recognized by their dark suits and commanding physical presence around the Pope. Very much like the United States Secret Service, the Swiss Guards form a protective area around the Pope and ensure there are no surprises from the crowds of well-meaning faithful fans of Benedict XVI.