There were 35 new papal Swiss Guards sworn in on the afternoon of 6 May, after they took a solemn oath of allegiance to the pope at a ceremony in the S. Damaso courtyard of the Apostolic Palace.
The colourful ceremony took place in the presence of Vatican dignitaries, the Swiss ambassador to the Holy See, Paul Widmer, and the president of the Swiss Confederation Ueli Maurer. Pope Francis was represented by Archbishop Giovanni Angelo Becciu, Substitute for General Affairs of the Secretariat of State.
During the ceremony 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.
The much-photographed soldiers are famous for their blue, gold and red uniforms, and ancient halberd weapons. The Swiss Guard is the oldest army in the world and celebrated its 500th anniversary in 2006.
The guards must be of Swiss nationality, as well as being Catholic, single and under the age of 30. In addition to protecting the pope, the army performs ceremonial duties and assist at Vatican functions, and soldiers serve for between two and 25 years.
The mother-tongue languages of the new recruits comprise 28 German, six French and one Italian from the Ticino canton of southern Switzerland.
There are currently 110 guards at the service of the pope although recruiting new guards has become increasingly difficult in recent years. The army's commander Colonel Daniel Anrig said that during the period of transition from Pope Benedict XVI to Francis "there was an explosion of interest but in terms of recruitment we still don’t see the success we had hoped for."
The Swiss Guards became embroiled in a scandal 15 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 is then alleged to have killed himself on the spot. Formerly the guards’ acting commander, Estermann had been installed in his new position at the annual swearing-in ceremony 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