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Pope’s guards celebrate 500 years

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  Quote Leonardo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Topic: Pope’s guards celebrate 500 years
    Posted: 22-Jan-2006 at 07:54

Pope's guards celebrate 500 years
By Christian Fraser
BBC News, Rome

Swiss guards
New recruits are sworn in at the Vatican

They are known as the "Defenders of the Church" and this weekend the Vatican Swiss Guard will celebrate 500 years of service.

In that time they have protected 42 successive popes, although more recently the Vatican has been guarded by Italian security forces and plainclothes police. But personal safety of the pope is still the guards' full responsibility.

The guards first arrived in Rome on 22 January 1506. At that time, Helvetian soldiers were employed as mercenaries, renowned for their courage and their loyalty.

There were many famous battles, but their most notable hour came in 1527, during the sack of Rome. Almost the entire guard was massacred by troops of the Holy Roman emperor Charles V on the steps of St Peter's Basilica.

Of 189 guards on duty only 42 survived, but their bravery ensured that Clement VII escaped to safety, down the "passeto", a secret corridor which still links the Vatican to Castel Sant' Angelo.

Swiss elite

Popular myth says the traditional yellow, blue and red uniforms the guards wear - the colours of the Medici - were designed by Michelangelo. But in truth they are only 100 years old and were designed in 1905 by a Swiss Guard Commander.

The weapons they carry were first introduced by the early Swiss armies in the 14th Century. It is an axe, known as the halberd, mounted on a long shaft with a spike at the end. When travelling with the pope, the uniforms and the halberd are left behind.

The Halberdiers protect the main entrances to the papal palace and the papal apartments. During the conclave they were also on guard at the doors of the Sistine Chapel while Benedict XVI was being selected as the new pope.

Currently, there are 110 guards and their numbers are limited by law.

The guard says it gets three times as many applicants as there are openings ever year. Applicants must be Swiss Catholics, have finished basic training in the Swiss army and be at least 5ft 8in (1.73m) tall. Minimum enrolment is two years.

Murder

The guards' worst moment came in 1998 when the new commander, Alois Estermann, and his wife were found dead in their apartment.

Swiss guards at Pope John Paul II's funeral
The Swiss guards were at Pope John Paul II's side until the end

The man who killed the couple, and later himself, was a disgruntled young corporal annoyed at being overlooked for a medal.

In 1981, as a young captain, Estermann had tried to protect John Paul from a Turkish would-be assassin. When the shots rang out he jumped into the pope's vehicle to shield his body but the pope had already been seriously wounded.

Veterans of the guard will take part in the 500th anniversary celebrations. Official ceremonies began in September with a mass and rally of veterans in Lucerne, in central Switzerland.

But the main event will be a march to Rome, from Bellinzona in southern Switzerland, by around 80 veterans, to recall the march of the original 200 in 1505.

Then, on 6 May, the anniversary of the Sack of Rome, the latest round of fresh recruits will be sworn in.

 

http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/europe/4630898.stm

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Virgil View Drop Down
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  Quote Virgil Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Jan-2006 at 03:33
Is there any source for what sort of training, equipment, etc., these guys get? 
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  Quote D.C. Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Jan-2006 at 07:09

Quote- "The weapons they carry were first introduced by the early Swiss armies in the 14th Century. It is an axe, known as the halberd, mounted on a long shaft with a spike at the end. When travelling with the pope, the uniforms and the halberd are left behind."

What are they armed with when they travel with the pope, also do they have a seperate uniform or are they plain clothed?

I did a brief search but came up with nothing.

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  Quote Leonardo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Jan-2006 at 12:05

I have found only this:

 

Swiss watchers

The papal guard may dress colourfully but you would be unwise to call them dandies, writes W Thomas Smith Jr

Tuesday April 5, 2005

New recruits to the Vatican Swiss Guard
New recuits to the Vatican Swiss Guard take part in a swearing-in ceremony. Photograph: Reuters/Paolo Cocco
 


Are the Pope's colourfully uniformed guards just for show? The question has frequently been asked in the wake of John Paul II's death. The answer is that these soldiers are indeed not only "stood up" for ceremonial purposes. They are members of the Swiss Guard - often referred to as the papal guards or Swiss mercenaries - an elite, company-sized military force that has defended a succession of popes for more than five centuries and not always without bloodshed.

Recognisable by their Renaissance-era striped uniforms (legend has it the uniform was designed by Michelangelo), armour, halberds and helmets plumed with Ostrich feathers, the Swiss Guards are best known to outsiders as the armed men who stand watch throughout the Apostolic Palace, including at the doors to the Pope's private apartments and the exterior gates of the Vatican. The guards are a favorite subject of photographers and tourists, and their quiet presence is an impressive show of force much like the US marines at the White House and the various regiments that guard Buckingham Palace.

Like American marines and British guardsmen, the Swiss Guard are crack soldiers, trained and equipped to fight an armed enemy should the need arise. They have long served as contract mercenaries to non-Swiss heads of state and others.

The Swiss Guard officially assumed Papal defence duties on January 22 1506. The unit's most desperate action occurred 21 years later, on May 6 1527, when 147 guardsmen - out of 189 - were killed in a defensive action that enabled Pope Clement VII to escape from attacking Spanish forces.

The only blemish on the guards' record occurred in 1798, when Napoleon occupied Rome, captured and deported Pope Pius VI and subsequently disbanded the Papal guard. Napoleon did, however, deploy other, non-Papal Swiss Guard units, also noted for their combat prowess, within the ranks of his Grande Arme.

When Hitler's army entered Rome in World War II, Swiss Guardsmen donned subdued, grey uniforms and took up positions behind machineguns and mortars. Though vastly outnumbered, they were prepared to sacrifice their lives for the Holy Father, but the Germans did not move against the Vatican.

That tradition of defending the Pope to the death continues today, as each of the 100 Swiss Guards must abide by the following oath: "I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the supreme pontiff [name of Pope] 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!"

As with other elite military units, the competition to join the Swiss Guard is keen. All recruits must be unmarried Roman Catholic males between the ages of 19 and 30. They must stand at least 172cm (5ft 8in) tall, and they must have completed military training in the Swiss armed forces. Once joined, they learn to handle swords and halberds, just as their predecessors did. Additionally, they are required to maintain a high level of physical fitness and a mastery of modern weaponry such as the SIG Sauer 9mm pistol and the H&K submachinegun. They also work hard at developing skills in close-quarters fighting, tactical movement, security, and counter-terrorism techniques.

Aside from its noble history, reputation and current capabilities , the Swiss Guard has, in recent years, suffered tragedy.

On May 13 1981, the would-be assassin Mehmet Ali Agca - a Turkish gunman allegedly under indirect KGB orders - shot Pope John Paul II while the pontiff was riding in an open vehicle through St Peter's Square. Instantly, a plainclothes Swiss Guard officer rushed to the wounded pontiff's aid and shielded him with his own body as the vehicle raced to the hospital.

The Pope, of course, survived. The Guard officer, Alois Estermann, became an instant hero and would ultimately be promoted to the rank of captain commander of the Swiss Guard. A few hours after this promotion, on May 4 1998, Estermann and his wife were shot to death by Corporal Cedric Tornay, a disgruntled Guardsman who then took his own life.

Today, outsiders throughout the world view the Swiss Guard as upholding a grand military tradition. Active and former professional soldiers, like myself, hold the unit in very high regard. And those who live and work within the walls of the Vatican are confident that the men in "the world's smallest army" will continue to defend the sovereign Vatican City and its soon-to-be-elected Pope against all threats.

MilitaryWeek.com




W Thomas Smith Jr's MilitaryWeek.com columns
Militaryweek.com

Email
wtsjr@militaryweek.com

http://www.guardian.co.uk/pope/story/0,12272,1452750,00.html

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  Quote D.C. Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Jan-2006 at 16:38
Thanks Leonado, that answers all of my questions.
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ok ge View Drop Down
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  Quote ok ge Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 25-Jan-2006 at 23:42
Before the Pope's guard was established in 1506, who used to defend and provide protection to the Pope? the State of the Pope? The state that controlled the Vatican?
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  Quote Constantine XI Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Jan-2006 at 04:59
Originally posted by ok ge

Before the Pope's guard was established in 1506, who used to defend and provide protection to the Pope? the State of the Pope? The state that controlled the Vatican?


From what I understand the Pope himself was a powerbroker in Italy. The Donation of Constantine, a forgery, "gave" the Pope control of the territories in Italy known as the "Papal States". From this the Papacy naturally had its own fuedal hierarchy from which to provide itself with soldiers. Sometimes when the Papacy wanted larger forces for wider ranging campaigns, they could (try) call a Crusade. Of course with the situation in Italy being what it was, the best insurance the Papacy had against her enemies militarily speaking was alliances with other Italian states.
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  Quote Leonardo Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 26-Jan-2006 at 07:40

Originally posted by ok ge

Before the Pope's guard was established in 1506, who used to defend and provide protection to the Pope? the State of the Pope? The state that controlled the Vatican?

 

From the collapse of the Western Roman Empire the bishop of Rome, the Pope, became not only a spiritual power but also a political one. He had to manage among other political powers, above all the (eastern) Roman Empereur in Constantinople and the Germanic kingdoms in Italy. He was formally under the protection of Constantinople but he called the Franks for defence from the territorial expansion of the Langobards.

After the Middle Ages the papal state became just one of the Italian states with a more or less regular army. The Swiss' guard dates back to Renaissance time and was only a sort of bodyguard of the pope. The papal army was abolished only in 1870 when the Italian army entered in Rome and the pope retired as a "prisoner" in the vatican palaces.

Here you can find some pictures of papal army:

http://www.araldicavaticana.com/divise_ex_esercito_pontifici o.htm

 

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