The Anniversary of the 1527 Pillaging of Rome: Spotlight on the Swiss Guard
Credit: news.va, The Vatican Today and Vatican Radio
On the morning of May 6th, 1527, from his headquarters set up in St. Onofrio’s Convent on the Gianicolo hill, 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.
Numbering just over 100 men, the Vatican’s Swiss Guard are members of the oldest standing army in the world and are probably the smallest one. Although they now have a largely ceremonial role, the Swiss Guards are part of an elite force that is ready at any moment to sacrifice their lives for the pope, as 147 of them did during the sack of Rome in 1527. This weekend sees the anniversary of that sacrifice by the Guards which is marked by the annual swearing-in ceremony for the new recruits.