A Former Swiss Guard’s Gift to the Papal Artifacts’ Collection
We often say that the Papal Artifacts’ Collection is peppered with unusual and interesting stories about the curator’s ability to procure so many and varied items. Recently, this scenario happened again when an 87 year old former guardsman was contacted by Father Kunst and, after several conversations (and a meeting), he generously donated his uniform to the Collection. What follows is the story of how that all came to be when Father Kunst was fortunate enough to meet someone whom he calls, a gem of a man, Mr. Paul Good.
Father Richard Kunst:
The Swiss Guard New Uniform
Several years ago when I was still the pastor of St. Benedict’s in Duluth, MN, I had a subscription to a magazine called, Inside the Vatican. It was just as it sounded, a monthly telling of all the “goings on” behind the scenes at the Vatican. I was always more interested in the pictures than the articles, which seemed somewhat dated.
I remember one picture of an older gentleman wearing a Swiss Guard uniform. He was a former member of the Guard who happened to live in Wisconsin.
Then, as now, I had this strange addiction to all things papal, so I tried to track him down.
I can’t remember all that happened, but I remember talking to his son for sure. I maybe even called the former guard himself, but it came to nothing, and I quickly forgot about it.
A couple weeks ago, I had a hard time falling asleep, and for some reason this old Swiss Guard popped in my head again, and because I remembered his name I once again tried to track him down. This time I had great success!! We spoke on the phone a few times, and it turned out that he was a Swiss Guard under Pope Pius XII.
After hearing many great stories from his time in the Guard I inquired if he would consider donating his uniform to my collection, and he said, yes!! I was very excited about this as I had tried to get one of the “modern” guard uniforms for years, but they are nearly impossible to acquire.
The modern Swiss Guard uniform is the same exact model of the original uniforms in the early 1500’s. Over time and up until 1914 the uniform evolved, but in 1914 they went back to the original design, which is exactly what you will see if you go to the Vatican today.
In my papal collection I have two guard uniforms that pre-date 1914, but not one of the new ones.
Recently I traveled to southern Wisconsin to meet the former guard and to pick up his uniform! It was a great visit, and over dinner, I recorded a conversation between the two of us. He told me many great stories connected to his time at the Vatican. He also shared several photos from that time, as well as the program from his swearing-in ceremony on May 6, 1950, and his Vatican ID. We will include a lot of that conversation with this information.
I am indebted to Paul Good for his generosity. This is an incredible addition to the Papal Artifacts’ Collection. —Father Richard Kunst
Paul Good’s Story
Switzerland is a country bordered by Austria, Italy, Germany and France. It is, at present, a federal republic consisting of 26 cantons, similar to our own states. After the death of the Borgia pope, Alexander VI (1492 – 1503), and upon the death of Pius III who reigned in 1503 for less than a month, the new pope, Julius II, pursued military solutions to a host of problems left to him by Alexander’s attempt to create a Borgia dynasty. Julius led papal armies in a variety of military campaigns earning the name of The Warrior Pope. He proved to be an energetic defender of the Papal States and led his military campaigns in full battle dress. His nickname was Julius the Terrible. It was Pope Julius who first established a permanent corps of the Pontifical Swiss Guard at the Vatican, and granted them the title of Defenders of the Church’s Freedom.
The Swiss Guard has varied in size over the years. Its most significant, hostile engagement was on May 6, 1527 when 147 of the 189 Guards lost their lives during the Sack of Rome in order to allow Clement VII to escape escorted by the other forty guards. They have served popes since the 16th century, operating mostly as a ceremonial escort to the pope. Swiss guardsmen must be Catholic males between the ages of nineteen and thirty years of age and at least 5′ 9″ tall. They must have the recommendation of their local parish and have served in a basic military school in Switzerland. They serve for a period of two years.
While Mr. Good told Father many stories when they met, these are some of the highlights of their conversation.
Mr. Good told Father that the guardsmen had to wear long-johns all year round. The reason was, despite the heat, there was no such thing as dry cleaning their uniforms, and so long johns and long sleeve shirts prevented cleaning them more often. A “higher up” would check to see if the guards were following all the rules—spot checks would occur and consequences ensued for anyone not following the rules.
A shift for a guardsman would be one 24 hour period followed by two days off. They patrolled St. Anne’s Gate—the main gate leading to the Vatican, and all other places throughout the Vatican. They reported at 7:00 AM to the main gate at the bronze doors, and from there an assignment would be given. The Pope’s residence was always guarded, both at his personal residence and at his office, a floor below. When dignitaries came, they were saluted.
Interactions with the Pope might occur while he was getting into his car or when a guardsman’s parents and siblings came to visit. Then you had the privilege of having an audience with him. It was arranged by Monsignor Collori (?) who would introduce everyone on the list. He was always very cordial. And because Mr. Good’s parents spoke Italian, the Pope and they could converse. His parents knew the area in Bavaria where the Pope vacationed—a house owned by Benedictine nuns.
There is also a memory he has of Pope Pius XII walking under an oak tree and crushing all the acorns beneath his feet.
At the present time, if a guard serves for five years, he gets to keep his uniform. For Paul, it was a different policy. Paul’s group got new uniforms every year. They were tailored just for the individual guard. They could keep the jacket of an old uniform because the armor they wore was really greased well, so this affected the quality of the uniform. For this reason, on occasions when they wore armor, an old jacket was used.
Father Kunst told Paul of his contacts with the Swiss Guards and of the people who have contacted them about his Collection to assure his collection was a legitimate place to donate an item. Paul laughed at this. He, too, wondered if Father was legitimate and was happy to find out he is.
One of his reasons for agreeing to this donation is his increasing age: he is 87 years old now. His own children are not interested in it. It’s hung in his closet all this time. It seemed to him that Father’s collection was the place it belonged. There is also a Swiss community center that might have been interested. They have a lot of items connected to the Guard. Father Kunst feels very fortunate he decided on this Collection for his uniform.
When ask about his favorite part of being a guard, Mr. Good tells of growing up in Switzerland and being so close to the border without being able to cross it. Becoming a guardsman was a way to do that. And so he entered Rome in August of 1949 and left after his tour of duty. At that time you had to sign up for three years. Paul was there when the allies were there, but the guys that were there during the war were stuck for that period of time.
His favorite memory was the swearing in ceremony with the coat of arms of Pope Julius II on his helmet. This occurred on May 6, 1950. The ceremony always occurs on this day. As stated earlier, its most significant, hostile engagement was on May 6, 1527 when 147 of the 189 Guards lost their lives during the Sack of Rome in order to allow Clement VII to escape escorted by the other forty guards. It’s important to note that a Pope has never lost his life while being protected by the Swiss Guard.
Part of this favorite memory included his parents’ presence at the event.
During the Holy Year of 1950, Paul was present at the opening of the Holy Door but not close enough to actually see it. He remembers an occasion of being present when the Pope arrived for Mass at St. Peter’s and came down the elevator to be put in the chair called the sedia gestatoria. He was also present when Queen Elizabeth came as a princess in 1951. She came to visit the pope on an official state visit. She had to climb a lot of steps to see the Pope, and at one point she turned around and looked at them and just said, “Many steps!” She did not get to use the elevator.
Paul said they all had to climb a lot of steps as well—and they only had hot water from Thursday through Saturday. It was assumed they did not need hot water for showers.
Father and Paul talked about the blue uniforms that are now used at St. Anne’s Gate on all days of the week except on Sundays and special occasions. And Father Kunst showed him photos of the renovated Swiss Guard chapel, which he had visited in October.
Paul Good’s life changed dramatically when he became a Swiss Guard, and again when he emigrated to a small community in southern Wisconsin. His Swiss Guard uniform has remained with him all this time, only to find its way to the Papal Artifacts’ Collection where it will be cherished and well taken care of.
Father Kunst is grateful for the time he spent with Paul Good, for his stories and for his generosity.