This year we celebrate the 500th anniversary of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. The week is filled with numerous events.
Last night there was a concert of popular music at the Paul V Audience hall in honor of the Swiss Guard.

Today the former members of the Swiss Guard complete the re-enactment of the original arrival of the Guard. Since April 7th, they have marched from Switzerland to Vatican City. Today, they arrived at Piazza del Popolo and are now marching to St. Peter’s Square. Pope Benedict will meet them and give them his blessing. I will be watching on Vatican TV.

Tomorrow, May 5, at 3:30pm, in the Auditorium Conciliazione a meeting will take place between all the members of the Swiss Guard and their families and friends. At 7:00pm, the choir and orchestra of the Collegium Musicum of Lucerne, with soloists from the Higher School of Music, also of Lucerne, the choir of Freiburg Cathedral and the Vokalensemble of the Swiss Canton of Schwyz will perform the “Carmen Saeculare” by Fr. Theo Flury O.S.B.

On Saturday, May 6th, there will be a Mass for the Swiss Guard. A wreath of flowers will then be laid in the Square of Roman Protomartyrs inside the Vatican remembering those guards who fell during the sack of Rome. Later in the day the new members of the guard will be sworn in. The swearing in is usually restricted to family members and friends, but this year tickets were made available to everyone. It will be the first time in history that the swearing in will take place in St. Peter’s Square rather than in the San Damaso courtyard. This year, the Holy Father will be present.(Usually the Secretary of State presides). At 11pm, there will be a fireworks display over Castel Sant’Angelo.

Finally, on Sunday May 7, after the Regina Coeli, the Swiss Army Concert Band will offer a concert in St. Peter’s Square.

January 22nd, 1506, is the official date of birth of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, because on that day, towards the evening, a group of one hundred and fifty Swiss soldiers commanded by Captain Kasparvon Silenen, of Canton Uri, passed through the Porta del Popolo and entered for the first time the Vatican, where they were blessed by Pope Julius II. The prelate Johann Burchard of Stras­bourg, Master of Pontifical Ceremonies at that time, and author of a famous chronicle, noted the event in his diary.

The barracks were built on Via Pellegrino and are still in use today. When I was in Rome, I was able to hear the Swiss Guard Band rehearsing inside the barracks.

May 6, 1527, the day of the sack of Rome, marks the greatest day in the history of the Swiss Guard. That morning, 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. The rest fell gloriously, massacred together with two hundred fugitives, on the steps of the High Altar in St. Peter’s Basilica. Pope Clement VII and his men were able to escape to safety, thanks to the “Passetto”, a secret corridor which Pope Alexander VI had built along the top of the wall connect­ing the Vatican with Castel Sant’Angelo.

Across the Sisto bridge the lansquenets and Spaniards fell on the city and for eight days committed every sort of violence, theft, sacrilege and massacre, even the tombs of the Popes, including that of Julius II, were violated in search of spoils. There were as many as 12 thousand dead and the booty amounted to ten million ducats.

Photo by Domini Sumus

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