Interesting Facts You May Not Know About the Swiss Guard

Vatican tour with kids

Vatican City is exceptionally iconic and unique among countries in the world. It is one of the smallest countries in existence and as the seat of the Holy Roman Catholic faith, it is one of the most important places in the world. One of the best parts of a Vatican tour with kids is the Swiss Guard that have responsibility for guarding the Pope and all inhabitants of the country. There are some facts that you may not know about the Swiss Guard.


In order to apply for the Swiss guard the applicant must be a single male, aged between 19 and 30 and over 5ft8 in height. They must also hold a high school degree or equivalent professional diploma. The recruit must be a faithful Roman Catholic and have the endorsement of his local Parish Priest. Each recruit must have completed five weeks of basic military training in Switzerland before they can undertake the five weeks of training in Rome. Once the training is completed the recruits are known as Halberdiers. This is due to traditional Halberd that they carry. This weapon was used extensively in Switzerland by mercenaries during the 14th and 15th century. After the recruit has been sworn in, they, and their parents, are granted a private audience with the pope during which they receive a blessing. The Swiss guard serve for a minimum of 25 months and this includes having Italian lessons if they do not already speak the language. After a year of service has been completed then the Swiss guard is ready to guard the gates of the Vatican and deal with tourists and the odd VIP guest.


The fancy Medici uniform of Red, Yellow and Blue is not the everyday uniform of the Swiss Guard. The day-to-day uniform is of a plain Blue. Contrary to popular belief the fancier uniforms, known as the Gala uniforms, were not designed by Michelangelo and have only been in use since 1910. Each uniform is custom made and fitted for each recruit. It is sown inside the Vatican and takes approximately 30 hours to construct. Once a recruit finished their service with the Swiss Guard then their uniform is destroyed, so each uniform really is unique. Some of the armour that accompanies the uniform dates to the 15th Century, however newer pieces are made by a team of specialised blacksmiths to replace those that can no longer be used. The helmet which contains dyed ostrich feathers and displays the sigil of Pope Julius II.


Final Things to Know

When visiting the Vatican there is just one more thing that you should know about the Swiss Guard. If the guard is standing to attention, holding their halberd this means that they are on Honor Guard duty and they should not be approached or spoken to. If they are standing with their arms folded and facing the public, then they are on guard duty and can be approached, they may even let you take photos if you ask nicely.