Inside the Vatican
The Swiss Guards

National Geographic Television Special
Airs in the U.S. on the National Geographic Channel

Page three of eleven

In a barracks within the Vatican walls, new recruits to the smallest standing army in the world are mustering out.

They are Swiss Guards, and for the last 500 years, they have been the bodyguards of the pope.

They number only about 100, and to qualify, one must be Swiss, Catholic, and at least five feet eight inches (173 centimeters) tall.

Today they drill with state-of-art equipment—circa 1500—preparing for the biggest day on their calendar, the ceremony where they will pledge their fidelity and their lives to the pope.

The Swiss Guards do serve a ceremonial role, but they are also a carefully trained security force. When the pope moves in public, the guards shed their stripes for plain clothes and join members of the Vatican police to form a cordon around the pontiff.

When he first arrived only four years ago, Vatican tailor Ety Cicioni met with a surprising challenge: There were no patterns and no instructions for how to make the uniform of the Swiss Guards. All he had to go on was a finished piece.

"My wife and I took it where I had worked before and there we totally took it apart. We reconstructed this unique uniform which is made of 154 pieces. I really had to study it and spend time on it before I understood it," Ety said.

Though the design of the uniform is popularly attributed to Michelangelo, the current uniform was really designed by a commandant of the guards. It was first worn in 1914 and, somewhat surprisingly, was actually a simplification of their previous garb.

Continued on Next Page >>


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