The world’s smallest army, as the Vatican’s Swiss Guard is also known, is building new barracks for its elite troops – and for the first time it will include facilities for women.
Famed for their striped uniforms and halberds, the Vatican’s Swiss Guard was formed in 1506 to defend the Pope and admits only unmarried Swiss men, between 19 and 30 years old and at least 1.74 meters (5ft 8in) tall.
Swiss Guards have been responsible for the safety of the Pope of the Roman Catholic Church since the 16th century, a record that makes them the oldest military unit in continuous operation in history.
Their iconic costumes – blue berets and doublets, white ruffs, plumed helmets and red, yellow and blue tunics – have a stunning Renaissance flavour.
In 2018, they swapped their heavy metal helmets for 3D-printed plastic versions.
The traditional rules of recruitment to their ranks are just as old-fashioned: new recruits must be unmarried men with Swiss citizenship. Nearly all of the guard are single men who live in a communal barracks just inside the Vatican gates. The commanders and married members live in separate apartments. All members are Swiss citizens.
The 50 million Swiss franc ($54.49 million) project for a new barracks is due to be completed by 2026 and will upgrade the guards’ quarters to single rooms with private bathrooms, Swiss newspaper SonntagsZeitung reported.
“From the beginning it was important to us that the new building provide space for serving women,” the newspaper quoted Jean-Pierre Roth, who heads the foundation overseeing the project, as saying.
In such a conservative institution, there was no provision for female roles… or there wasn’t until now.
Allowing female recruits would require the pope’s approval. The president of the Foundation of the Pontifical Swiss Guard, which supports the guard financially, said that would help to find new recruits for the 135-strong corps, which needs to hire around 30-35 a year to keep the number stable.
“As soon as female guards are allowed, the guard’s recruitment potential will increase,” foundation President Ruth Metzler-Arnold, told the newspaper.
A Vatican spokesman travelling with the pope in Hungary and Slovakia said he was not aware of the report and a security source aboard the papal plane said “We’ll see” when asked if the Swiss Guard would one day allow women.
(Agencies; Picture Courtesy: Getty Images)