Today marks the anniversary of the Stand of the Swiss Guard, when, during the sack of Rome in 1527, most members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard were killed protecting Pope Clement VII.
On May 6, 1527, the imperial army of Charles V broke through the walls of Rome and began to unleash 12 days of horror: bloodshed, burning and looting. Lest anyone doubt that they meant business, these Spanish and German mercenaries had marched hundreds of miles carrying an effigy of the Pope, hanging from a gallows.
When the army neared St. Peter’s the Swiss Guard “fiercely and faithfully” (Acriter et Fideliter, their motto) fended off the Habsburg armies long enough for Pope Clement VII to escape, taking refuge in Castel Sant’Angelo (at bottom right of picture).
Each year on the anniversary of their sacrifice the Swiss Guard lay a wreath on the monument in the Vatican.
There is also a beautiful monument to the fallen guard in Lucerne.
This anniversary is also the day new members of the Swiss Guard are sworn in at a ceremony in the San Damaso courtyard. The chaplain of the guard reads the oath: “I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honourably serve the Supreme Pontiff [actual 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!”
To which each guard individually, grasping the banner of the Swiss Guard in his left hand and with his right hand raised in a special gesture that symbolizes the Trinity, responds: “I, [name], swear diligently and faithfully to abide by all that has just been read out to me, so grant me God and so help me his Saints.”
Today we thank God for the protection, both spiritual and physical, he grants to His Vicar on earth. And let us also thank God for the courage and selflessness of the Swiss Guard. May St. Michael protect and defend them always!