New Swiss Guards at Vatican

30 new recruits being sworn in

There are 30 new papal Swiss Guards being sworn in at 10.30 on 6 May, after taking a solemn oath of allegiance to the pope at a ceremony in the S. Damaso courtyard of the Vatican's Apostolic Palace.

During the colourful ceremony, held in the presence of Pope Francis, the new guards place one hand on the flag of the Swiss Guard while raising three fingers on their other hand, as a symbol of the Holy Trinity.

The annual event commemorates 6 May 1527, when 147 Swiss Guards died protecting Pope Clement VII from the army of the Holy Roman Emperor. The pope fled via the 800-m Passetto di Borgo passageway to the nearby refuge of Castel S. Angelo.

Speaking to the new recruits on the eve of their swearing-in, Pope Francis reminded them that Rome is a crossroads for tourists and pilgrims from all over the world, people of different languages, traditions, religions and cultures. The much-photographed soldiers are famous for their ancient halberd weapons and their blue, gold and red uniform, which celebrates its centenary this year. Pope Francis noted that behind every uniform, however, the wearer should be known for his spirit of hospitality, kindness and an attitude of charity towards all.

The Swiss Guard is the oldest standing army in the world and celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2006. The guards must be male and of Swiss nationality, as well as being Catholic, unmarried and aged between 19 and 30. They must also have undergone intensive Swiss military training and be a minimum height of 174 cm. In addition to protecting the pope, the army performs ceremonial duties and assists at Vatican functions, and soldiers serve for between two and 25 years.

There are currently 110 guards at the service of the pope although in recent years recruiting new guards had presented difficulties. However the army's commander Colonel Daniel Anrig said that the popularity of Pope Francis has reversed that trend, triggering a boost in numbers applying over the last year and leading to the current “positive situation.”

The Swiss Guards became embroiled in a scandal 16 years ago when their commander Alois Estermann and his Venezuelan wife were assassinated in their home on Vatican territory on 4 May 1998. They were murdered by a young Swiss Guard, Cédric Tornay, who then killed himself, according to the official Vatican reports. Formerly the guards’ acting commander, Estermann had been installed in his new position earlier the same day. Mystery still surrounds the case which has led to numerous conspiracy theories.

For more information about the Swiss Guards see their Facebook page.