The motto of the Swiss Guard is “Fiercely and Faithfully.” They have been living up to that motto, and to their oath, as they have protected the Pontiff for more than 500 years.
6 MAY 1527: THE FAITHFUL SWISS GUARD AND THE SACK OF ROME
Thousands of mutinous Imperial troops stormed into Rome on this date, intent on plundering the city. When they reached St. Peter’s Basilica, Commander Kaspar Röist of Zurich, with 147 of the Swiss Guard, held them off while another 40 helped Pope Clement VII escape to Castel Sant’Angelo by a secret passage. Soon after, Röist and his men were overwhelmed by the mutineers and slain. So it is that when recruits for the Swiss Guard swear loyalty, they do so on 6 May.
(Many thanks to my good friend John F. Dausch for the account above!)
I vividly recall seeing (on news clips, not live, alas) the Swiss Guard responding to the attempted assassination of Pope John Paul II on 13 May 1981: although they are all trained soldiers, and can be equipped with modern weapons if need be, there was no time – and so they charged toward the gunfire, halberds at high port!
I am convinced they would have done the exact same thing if it had been a team of terrorists with AK-47s and RPGs. They are sworn to protect the Pontiff, at the cost of their own lives if need be – following the example of “the 189” – and that is exactly what they will do.
I am The Anglophilic Anglican, not a Roman Catholic; the Roman Church and the Anglican Church have been at odds, ourselves, on more than one occasion and over more than one issue, over the centuries since the 1534 Act of Supremacy declared King Henry VIII and his successors as the Supreme Head of the Church, replacing the Pope.
But the Bishop of Rome is nonetheless the Patriarch of the West – the last, in fact of the Five Patriarchates (the Pentarchy: Jerusalem, Antioch, Alexandria, Constantinople, and Rome) to have never fallen to Islam, and only one in the West.
I may, with my fellow Anglicans, dispute Papal claims of infallibility and of “universal ordinary jurisdiction”; I may agree “the Pope of Rome enjoys no jurisdiction in this Realm of England,” or the Churches which desire from the English Church.
But the Chair of Peter nonetheless deserves, it seems to me, a primacy of honour: primus inter pares, first among equals of the Bishops of Christ’s one, holy, catholic, and apostolic Church. And for the See of Rome to have fallen to a drunken and mutinous mob of irreligious cutthroats would have been a grievous fate indeed!
Furthermore, I respect courage. And the Swiss Guard showed that, in spades! Outnumbered more than 100 to 1, they fought literally to the last man – their Commandant, Captain Kaspar Röist, was the last to fall. By one account, the Imperial mutineers
“suffered an estimated 15,000 casualties – three quarters of their fighting force. The last stand of the Swiss Guard allowed Pope Clement VII time to escape the Vatican, and it weakened and demoralized the mutineers to such an extent that they could not hold the city. With their backs to Saint Peter, the Swiss had saved the seat of Christendom.”
And because of their sacrifice, to this day, new guards are sworn in on May 6, as a potent reminder of the Guards’ vow to defend the life of the Pontiff at any cost – including their own.