It is rare to see a melding together of tradition and modernity as it is realized in the Papal Swiss Guards. The core mission is unchanged: since 1506 they protect the pope and his residence. What has changed are the methods and strategies, the guards that respond to the call and the environment in which they serve.
Clothed in each traditional renaissance uniform is a state-of-the-art trained Swiss security professional. They provide security services (visitors’ control, security duties, guard service and personal protection) as well as honorary services (at audiences, receptions, Holy Masses). The main task of the Corps is to "constantly watch over the safety of the Holy Father and his residence". Other obligations are:
- to accompany the Holy Father on his travels,
- to protect the College of Cardinals during papal transitions,
- to guard the entrances to the Vatican City, and
- to perform other security and honorary services.
The Swiss Guard have probably the most famous uniform in the entire world, the so-called “Gala Uniform” . The blue, red and yellow are the traditional colors of the Medici family.
The “Exerzieruniform” is entirely blue. It is worn for training and night duties. In winter and when it rains, a jacket is worn to protect the uniform from the elements.
At Easter, Christmas and at the swearing-in ceremonies an additional 17th century armor complements the Gala uniform. This includes a striking white collar, the white gloves and a silver helmet with a red feather for the halberdiers, a dark purple feather for the officers and a white feather for the commander and the sergeant. On both sides of the silver helmet depicts a relief of the founder’s Pope Julius II “della Rovere” family oak.
What many people do not realize is that the Papal Swiss Guard in their function as bodyguards have an additional “uniform”: plain-clothes. They are equipped with the SIG P220 pistol and the SIG SG 550 rifle (or its SG 552 variant) which is also in use by the Swiss Army. As Swiss Guard recruits must have passed basic military training in Switzerland, they are already familiar with these weapons when they begin their service. The pepper spray used by the Swiss Army (RSG-2000) is also in use. The Swiss Guard at the right is carrying a Glock 19 pistol and Heckler & Koch MP7 submachine gun in their function as plainclothes bodyguards.
Regardless of his uniform – or his weapons – a Papal Swiss Guard stands ready to serve the pope - “if called for, even by giving one’s own life for him.”