The uniform of the Swiss Guard—the Vatican’s official army—is among the most recognizable pieces of militaria in the world. Eyecatching and colorful, this getup is composed of a red uniform overlaid by alternating yellow and blue stripes. Like any army, the Guards have different uniforms for different occasions and places, but most of the time when you see them on duty they will be wearing this one.
So why the flashy colors? Is it just for fun? Or is there a deeper meaning?
According to the official website of the Swiss Guard:
“The famous colours of blue, red and yellow are the traditional colours of the Medici family.”
Other sources say that the red is for the Medici family, and that the blue and yellow are for the della Rovere family of Julius II, the pope who first organized the Swiss Guard and brought them to the Vatican in 1506.
The inclusion of the Medicis—as far as our research can discover—is to commemorate one or more popes that came from the Medici family: Leo X, who succeeded Julius II, and/or Clement VII, the pope saved by the heroism of the Swiss Guard during their famed “Last Stand.” Fighting off vastly superior numbers of invading troops near St. Peter’s Basilica on May 6th, 1527, 147 out of 189 guards were slain while the remainder accompanied Pope Clement across the Passetto di Borgo to the safety of Castel Sant’Angelo.
The uniform as we currently know it was created by Commander Jules Repond in the early 20th century (not by Michelangelo—a common myth). It is based on depictions of the Guard seen in 16th century sources, which explains the distinctly Renaissance appearance.
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