By Vatican News
“My life would be unthinkable without the Swiss Guards. They are always near me, day and night,” are the words of Pope Francis in the presentation of the plans. “Their professionalism, discipline, discretion, reliability and courtesy,” he wrote, “fill me with a great sense of gratitude.” “They are young men with a disciplined daily life, working 24 hours a day to assure me safety. For this reason it is extremely important that in the Vatican, which is becoming more and more a second homeland for them, their wives and children, that they have modern and at the same time safe housing,” the Pope wrote.
The project is being financed by the Foundation for the Renovation of the Barracks of the Papal Swiss Guard in the Vatican, a Swiss charity established in Solothurn in 2016. The president of the Foundation Jean-Pierre Roth, Commander Christoph Graf, architects Pia Durisch and Aldo Nolli, and a delegation from the Foundation had several meetings in the Vatican in recent days to present the new project.
“We have been encouraged and told to move forward and this is what we intend to do despite the difficult times we are living in,” Roth explained. He expressed confidence they will find the necessary funds from donors and foundations.
The current barracks clearly shows the signs of the times. “It is dilapidated and no longer offers the framework and equipment necessary to accommodate the Guards in conditions that conform to the norms in force,” wrote Vatican Secretary of State, Cardinal Pietro Parolin in a letter, thanking the Foundation and donors.
The current barracks has become too small to house the Guards, making it impossible for family members to be accommodated there. This is why the Foundation chaired by Roth was created, in order to find donors who could contribute to the realization of the project, to make the Vatican “a second home” not only for soldiers who in their colourful and fascinating uniforms defend the Pope and guard the entrances to the State and the Apostolic Palace but also for their wives and children. Roth said, “It is important that the Guards can live in the Vatican with their families and that those who wish to marry are not forced to live outside.”
The need for space has in fact grown by about 30% due to the change in the rules regarding marriage, which have become less rigid. After a careful architectural study, it has been calculated that it is impossible to obtain the necessary space simply by renovating the current building. Therefore, a completely new building will have to be built in the same place.
The construction of a new building will be an opportunity to experiment with eco-sustainable construction techniques. According to architect Durisch, “Respect for the environment will be central according to what Pope Francis wrote in the encyclical “Laudato si’“, whose fifth anniversary is being celebrated this year.” He said they will recycle the demolition material and transform it into concrete. The new construction will have an eco-certification. Architect Nolli explained that the new Swiss Guard barracks will be “a sober structure which will need little maintenance and will use simple materials”.
Commander Christoph Graf is “convinced that the new building will make it easier to recruit Swiss youth who are enthusiastic about serving the Pope”.
Who are the Pontifical Swiss Guards?
The Pontifical Swiss Guard is the world’s longest-standing, but the smallest army in the world’s smallest independent state. What is regarded as the pope’s personal army, the Swiss Guard celebrated the 500th anniversary of its founding in 2006. Established on January 22, 1506, this year it turned 514.
However, the finest hour of the Pontifical Swiss Guard would come 21 years later when its members would be called upon to demonstrate not only their fighting skills but most importantly their absolute loyalty to the person of the Pope.
When the troops of Charles V of Spain, the Holy Roman Emperor, descended on Rome against Pope Clement VII on May 6, 1527, with all savagery in what is known as the Sack of Rome, the defence of the city was left only to the Roman Militia and the Swiss Guard.
Vastly outnumbered by the invaders, every single Swiss Guard defending the main point of entry, 147 of them, was slaughtered in the attack. In turn, they left 900 of the enemy dead. They fell gloriously together with two hundred fugitives, on the steps of the High Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica. Only 42 of the 189 Swiss Guards survived.
Pope Clement VII was spirited away at the last minute by the surviving Swiss Guard through a secret corridor called the ‘passetto’ from the Vatican to the nearby fortress of Castel Sant’Angelo.
The massacre of May 6th, 1527 was the proudest moment of the Swiss Guards and is commemorated each year in the Vatican with a swearing-in of all new guards to help remind them of the seriousness of their commitment in defending the Pope.