The Vatican’s Army: They’re Soldiers and Chefs

The papal alliance with the Swiss Guard began in 1505 when Pope Julius II sent an urgent request to the Swiss Diet for a company of Swiss Guards to protect the Holy Father and the home of the Church in Rome. The decision to enlist Swiss soldiers did not come by chance. It was an age of turbulence, with wars and conflicts, large and small, raging across Europe. The new Pope was determined to protect the interests and integrity of the Church and the safety of the Pontiff himself. By virtue of their fidelity and ferocity in battle, the Swiss were regarded as invincible, the “Most Courageous & Most Loyal” soldiers in the land. Summoned to Rome, a contingent of 150 Swiss crossed the Alps in the dead of winter, arriving on January 22, 1506. With proper ceremony, they were blessed and received by the Holy Father and assigned to quarters at the Vatican, adjacent to the Apostolic Palace. The age of the Pontifical Swiss Guard had begun.

Today, the primary responsibilities of the Guard remain virtually unchanged after 500 years. Security for the Holy Father, protection of His person and vigilance over His residence are the first and foremost orders of the day.

There are other important duties: guarding the entrances to Vatican City, enforcement of the laws, and security provisions for the Holy Father on his international travels.

Vatican Cookbook

The Vatican Cookbook is available from Sophia Institute Press.

Every member of the Guard is a citizen of the Vatican City state, thus governed by Vatican law, including the military rules of the Guard and the orders of the Swiss Guard’s Commander. The Guardsman is honor bound to loyalty, respect and vigilance, and always ready to serve. It is the duty of the Guardsman to recognize his solemn obligations in all religious, moral and military regards, with a daily commitment to perfection.

So when a cookbook with the Pontifical Swiss Guard was suggested to Sergeant Erwin Niederberger—accomplished pastry chef and member of the Swiss Guard since 1999—his first thought was, “What has one to do with the other?”

It wasn’t long before he realized, however, that a Swiss Guard Vatican Cookbook had the makings of a very special project.

The scope of the project changed dramatically in 2012 when David Geisser joined the Guard. David is a prodigy chef with remarkable culinary skills and a talent for writing. At twenty-two he had already written two nationally acclaimed cookbooks.

But The Vatican Cookbook is much more than a compilation of delicious recipes. As the work progressed more welcome contributions from many in the Guard were made: personal stories, holiday memories, first hand historical accounts and more enhancements in words and pictures.

For example, next to Pope Francis’ favorite pastry recipe, one especially delightful memory from Geisser is recounted:

In the summer of 2014, there was football fever at the Vatican…Of course, the Guardsmen were no exception…We cheered the Swiss team to victory in the opening round, setting up the    showdown with Argentina, home team of Pope Francis. The Argentineans won in a close game     and the Swiss had to concede defeat.

After the game, I reported for overnight duty at the entrance to the Pope’s residence. Just after dawn, Pope Francis stepped from his home with a bright morning greeting, then leaned close and asked if I was sad about the match. I had to admit I wanted the Swiss to win, but I saluted    Argentina for the victory. Pope Francis smiled, stepped back into his home and re-emerged with a little pastry. He smiled as he handed me the sweet gift and said he hoped it would “make the day a little better.” And it does, every time I think of my personal moment with Pope Francis.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard is not only a military company, but also a community. One hundred and ten men live in the barracks and the facilities at the special campus for the Guard, a small Swiss homeland set aside in Vatican City. It is a unique setting for an extraordinary time in the lives of these young men.

They share long hours, intense training and sacred duties. Life in the Swiss Guard is difficult and demanding, but there are many rewards as well. The camaraderie of this elite corps of men and the spiritual energy of the Vatican enhance the experience. The wonders of the Vatican, the magic of Rome and the endless parade of visitors from every place on earth make for lasting memories.

The Pontifical Swiss Guard is proud to present The Vatican Cookbook filled not only with touching personal stories of life within the Vatican, but also legends of the Swiss Guard handed down since the days of Michelangelo, stunning photographs of Vatican City’s secret and special places, and tributes to St. John Paul II, Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI, and Pope Francis. Not to mention the unique collection of more than seventy recipes!

Buon Appetito from the Swiss Guard!

Editor’s note: This preview is provided by Sophia Institute Press. The Vatican Cookbook is available as in both hardback and ebook editions through Sophia Institute Press. 

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