Last week, on May 6, the Swiss Guard swore in a new batch of recruits at St. Damaso Courtyard within the Vatican City. During the ceremony, the new recruits raise three fingers and swear the following oath:
“I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the Supreme Pontiff Francis and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the See is vacant.
Furthermore I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors, respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!”
The 6th of May is a significant date for the Swiss Guard. It was on this day, in 1527, when the force saw its only military action. As Charles V’s forces moved on Rome and sacked the city, in response to Pope Clement VII’s support of France, the Swiss Guard fought to protect Rome and Clement. As Charles’ forces moved in on the pontiff, the Swiss Guard fought bravely to successfully secure his escape. In the end, 147 members of the Swiss Guard died fighting while a detachment ushered the Holy Father to safety.
I have a lot of admiration for the Guard – what they stand for, and their history, but a single engagement in five hundred years isn’t much. Much of what I’ve seen and read seem to go to great lengths to paint the world’s smallest standing army as a capable elite force, but it all seems to lack in specific detail as to why they reach this conclusion beyond the fact that they are trained to use automatic rifles. Are they still a force capable of defending the pope against modern-world dangers? I hope so.