With all the news of Pope Benedict XVI retiring, and with Dojo Rat considering a run for the Vatican, I thought it’d be interesting to talk about the Pontifical Swiss Guard. The Guard is an elite group of soldiers who are tasked with guarding all Popes.
Recruits to the guards must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss military and can obtain certificates of good conduct. Recruits must have a professional degree or high school diploma and must be between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174 cm (5 ft, 8.5 in) tall. In 2009, the Pontifical Swiss Guard commandant, Daniel Anrig, suggested that the Guard might someday be open to recruiting women, but he added that the admission of female recruits remained far in the future.
Here’s another version of their uniform:
History of the Pontifical Guard:
On the morning of May 6th, 1527, from his headquarters set up in St. Onofrio’s Convent on the Gianicolo hill, Captain General Bourbon launched a series of attacks on Rome. During one of them, at the Torrione Gate, while leading the assault of the walls, he himself was mortally wounded. After just a moment’s hesitation, the Spanish mercenaries broke through the Torrione Gate, while the lansquenets invaded the road of Borgo Santo Spirito and St. Peter’s. The Swiss Guard, standing firm at the foot of the obelisk (now in St. Peter’s Square, but then near the German cemetery within the Vatican close to the Basilica), together with the few remnants of the Roman troops, resisted desperately. Their Captain, Kaspar Röist was wounded, and later killed by the Spaniards in his quarters in front of his wife, Elizabeth Klingler. Of the 189 Swiss Guards, only 42 survived, the ones who, when all was lost, under the command of Hercules Göldli guarded Clement VII’s retreat to safety in Castel Sant’Angelo.
So what is this security force trained in? Besides basic training with the Swiss military they have training in the following weapons:
- Command baton
- Cuirass with spaulders
- Dreyse M1907 (Retired from service)
- SIG P220 (P75)
- Glock 19
- Heckler & Koch MP5A3
- Heckler & Koch MP7A1
- SIG SG 550
- SIG SG 552
Searching the fetid back alleys of the interwebs, I was finally able to find out what martial arts training the Pontifical Swiss Guard receives. From an interview by Lew Toulmin:
I joined in November 2004 for a standard two year initial tour of duty. I did the normal one month of training at the Vatican School of Records, where I learned the history of the Vatican and the Guards, the key people and how to recognize them, and the standing orders. I also studied self-defense, a customized blend of karate and judo that is very practical, is taught by an old karate master, and was developed especially for the Guards. We can also take courses in Italian and English.
The following video offers a quick overview of the Swiss Guard. If you pay attention you’ll also get a sense of the guard’s self-defense philosophy:
“The first weapon of the guard is to speak, and then, to touch…”