€2 commemorative coins - Vatican City 2006, 5th centenary of the Pontifical Swiss Guard.
Commemorative 2 euro coins from Vatican City
Issuing volume: 100,000 coins
Designer / Engraver Inscriptions: First initial and last name of the designer: 'O. ROSSI'., Initials of the engraver: 'M.C.C. INC.' (INC. is the Italian abbreviation for 'engraver').
€2 Edge Inscription: The Vatican €2 coin edge inscription is '2', followed by one star, repeated six times alternately upright and inverted.
Mint Location: Istituto Poligrafico e Zecca dello Stato (IPZS) (State Printing Office and Mint), in Rome, Italy.
Mint Marks: Mintmark of the Rome mint: the letter 'R'. Located on the right side, below the date stamp, inner circle.
National Identification: Text: 'CITTÀ DEL VATICANO'; Local long form of Vatican City.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard is the oldest active military unit presently in existence. While Britain's Yeomen of the Guard was established in 1485 (twenty-one years prior to the Swiss Guard), it is a part-time body with a solely ceremonial role.
The Pontifical Swiss Guard has its origins in the 15th century. Pope Sixtus IV (1471–1484) already made a previous alliance with the Swiss Confederation and built barracks in Via Pellegrino after foreseeing the possibility of recruiting Swiss mercenaries. The pact was renewed by Innocent VIII (1484–1492) in order to use them against the Duke of Milan. Alexander VI (1492–1503) later actually used the Swiss mercenaries during their alliance with the King of France. During the time of the Borgias, however, the Italian Wars began in which the Swiss mercenaries were a fixture in the front lines among the warring factions, sometimes for France and sometimes for the Holy See or the Holy Roman Empire. The mercenaries enlisted when they heard King Charles VIII of France was going to war with Naples. Among the participants in the war against Naples was Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere, the future Pope Julius II (1503–1513), who was well acquainted with the Swiss having been Bishop of Lausanne years earlier. The expedition failed in part thanks to new alliances made by Alexander VI against the French. When Cardinal della Rovere became Pope Julius II in 1503, he asked the Swiss Diet to provide him with a constant corps of 200 Swiss mercenaries. In September 1505, the first contingent of 150 soldiers started their march towards Rome, under the command of Kaspar von Silenen, and entered the city on January 22, 1506, today given as the official date of the Guard's foundation. "The Swiss see the sad situation of the Church of God, Mother of Christianity, and realize how grave and dangerous it is that any tyrant, avid for wealth, can assault with impunity, the common Mother of Christianity," declared Huldrych Zwingli, a Swiss Catholic who later became a Protestant reformer. Pope Julius II later granted them the title "Defenders of the Church's freedom".
The force has varied greatly in size over the years and has even been disbanded. Its first, and most significant, hostile engagement was on May 6, 1527, when 147 of the 189 Guards, including their commander, died fighting the troops of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V in the stand of the Swiss Guard during the Sack of Rome in order to allow Clement VII to escape through the Passetto di Borgo, escorted by the other 40 guards. The last stand battlefield is located on the left side of St Peter's Basilica, close to the Campo Santo Teutonico (German Graveyard).
The Pontifical Swiss Guard has served the popes since the 16th century. Ceremonially, they shared duties in the Papal household with the Palatine Guard and Noble Guard, both of which were disbanded in 1970 under Paul VI. Today the Papal Swiss Guard have taken over the ceremonial roles of the former units. At the end of 2005, there were 135 members of the Pontifical Swiss Guard. This number consisted of a Commandant (bearing the rank of Oberst or Colonel), a chaplain, three officers, one sergeant major (Feldwebel), 30 NCOs, and 99 halberdiers, the rank equivalent to private (so called because of their traditional halberd).
Recruits to the guards must be Catholic, single males with Swiss citizenship who have completed basic training with the Swiss military and can obtain certificates of good conduct. Recruits must have a professional degree or high school diploma and must be between 19 and 30 years of age and at least 174 cm (5 ft 8.5 in) tall. Qualified candidates must apply to serve. If accepted, new guards are sworn on May 6 every year in the San Damaso Courtyard (Italian: Cortile di San Damaso) in the Vatican (May 6 is the anniversary of the Sack of Rome). The chaplain of the guard reads aloud the oath in the language of the guard (mostly German)
Regular guardsmen (halberdiers) receive a tax-free salary of €1,300 per month plus extra pay for hours worked overtime. In addition, accommodation and boarding are provided.
The official dress uniform is of blue, red, orange and yellow with a distinctly Renaissance appearance. Commandant Jules Repond (1910–1921) created the current uniforms in 1914. While both Michelangelo and a painting of the Pontifical Swiss Guard bearing Pope Julius II on a litter (by Raphael) are often cited as inspiration for the Pontifical Swiss Guard uniform, the actual uniforms worn by those soldiers are of the style which appears by today's standards as a large skirt, a common style in uniforms during the Renaissance.
A very clear expression of the modern Pontifical Swiss Guard uniform can be seen in a 1577 fresco by Jacopo Coppi of the Empress Eudoxia conversing with Pope Sixtus III. It is clearly the precursor of today's recognizable three-colored uniform with boot covers, white gloves, a high or ruff collar, and either a black beret or a black Comb morion (silver for high occasions). Sergeants wear a black top with crimson leggings, while other officers wear an all-crimson uniform.
The regular duty uniform is more functional, consisting of a simpler solid blue version of the more colorful tri-color grand gala uniform, worn with a simple brown belt, a flat white collar and a black beret. For new recruits and rifle practice, a simple light blue overall with a brown belt may be worn. During cold or inclement weather, a dark blue cape is worn over the regular uniform. The original colors (blue and yellow) were issued by Pope Julius II taking his family (Della Rovere) colors. Pope Leo X added the red to reflect his family's Medici colors.
Headwear is typically a black beret for daily duties, while a black or silver morion helmet with red, white, yellow and black, and purple ostrich feather is worn for ceremonial duties, the former for guard duty or drill; the latter for high ceremonial occasions such as the annual swearing in ceremony or reception of foreign heads of state.
The tailors of the uniforms work inside the Pontifical Swiss Guard barracks and tailor-make the uniform for each guardsman individually. The uniform weighs 8 pounds (3.6 kg), and may be the heaviest uniform in use by any standing army today. The Renaissance style makes them one of the most complicated to construct. A single uniform requires 154 pieces and takes nearly 32 hours and 3 fittings to complete.
Members of the guard are eligible for Vatican decorations. The Benemerenti medal is often awarded after three years of faithful service.
Various units of Swiss Guards existed for hundreds of years. The earliest such unit was the Swiss Hundred Guard (Cent Suisses) at the French court (1497 – 1830). This small force was complemented in 1567 by a Swiss Guards regiment. The Papal Swiss Guard (now located in Vatican City), was founded in 1506 and is the only extant Swiss Guard. In the 18th and early 19th centuries several other Swiss Guards existed for periods in various European courts.
The use of Swiss soldiers as Royal guards and as the Pontifical guard stems from the reputation of Swiss mercenaries at the time of their formation. Since Switzerland was a poor country, young men often sought their fortunes abroad. Having a reputation for discipline and loyalty, and employing revolutionary battle tactics, they were considered the most powerful troops of the 15th century, until their methods were refined by the Landsknechte in the early 16th century.