24 April 2016


CHIAVARI, Italy - First time visitors to the Vatican in Rome are often surprised to see just how wedding cake fancy the interior of St. Peter’s Basilica is. There seem to be curlicues and swirls and chubby cheeked angels in the most unexpected places, with hardly a straight line in sight.
St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican
The interior is the work of GianLorenzo Bernini, but it was the man who commissioned him, Pope Urban VIII, who demanded the flamboyant architecture. More curves, he said, more grandeur, more drama, and he wanted it not just for St. Peter’s but for all Catholic churches. It was all part of his plan, and Bernini and other 17th century architects delivered.

The Catholic Church was under attack. It was serious. Too many people were being lured away by Martin Luther and his Reformation Movement. The Church knew it had to fight back, and fight back hard, if it was going to stop the flow of once faithful Catholics from joining the Protestants.
St. Peter's Square, Vatican
While new religious groups, like the Calvinists, were preaching that churches and church services should be simple, stripped down affairs, the Catholic Church saw things differently. It argued that a God of greatness and power should be worshiped with the kinds of rituals, ceremonies and churches worthy of these divine qualities. It was this affirmation of the beauty and grandiosity of faith that led to the development of Baroque art and architecture, elements that would become the Church’s first line of defense.

In Rome, churches started popping up like mushrooms after a rain. It wasn’t long before the city began to take on a new look, becoming a city of beautiful churches, the city we see today.

But not all Romans were convinced the new fangle design ideas the architects were producing were good. One architect in particular seemed to draw a lot of criticism; his name was Francesco Borromini.
San Carlino, Rome 
Time and time again his designs would cause the Romans to stop and look, and scratch their heads and wonder what in the world was he thinking. The curvy façade on the church of San Carlo alle Quattro Fontane, (called San Carlino by the Romans) is a good example. What kind of person thinks a curvy façade on a church is acceptable, the Romans wanted to know.

But it was more than just the façade of San Carlino they objected to. When Borromini topped the church’s bell tower with a roof that looked like a pagoda, they declared him totally mad.

But while his flights of architectural fancy were duly noted and loudly denounced, it was precisely because of them that the elaborate style became known as baroque, for in those days baroque meant abnormal. 
St. Agnese in Agone, Rome (Architect: Borromini)
Borromini’s greatest rival was GianLorenzo Bernini. Bernini was Pope Urban’s favorite artist, and much to Borromini’s dismay, it was Bernini the Pope turned to when he wanted to give the interior of St. Peter’s at the Vatican a makeover.

Bernini was good choice. His work was not only dramatic but also beautiful. Ask anyone who has visited St. Peter’s what they think of the soaring sculpted bronze canopy that covers the papal altar in the center of the Basilica. They will most likely tell you it took their breath away. Bernini had that kind of power.

He went on to become one of the most influential artists/architects of the time. You see his work everywhere in Rome: from the sculptured fountain of the Four Rivers in Piazza Navona, to the Barcaccia (boat) fountain at the foot of the Spanish Steps, to the statue of the Ecstasy of St. Teresa in the church of Santa Maria della Vittoria.
Fountain of the Four Rivers, Rome (Architect: Bernini)
But perhaps his greatest achievement is the colonnade that encloses the piazza in front of St. Peter’s Basilica. To be held in that embrace as the Pope blesses the people of Rome and the world - urbi et orbi - is truly a heart stopping experience.

By the middle of the seventeenth century, Baroque had moved from religious art and architecture to the preferred style for grand palazzi throughout Italy. From Turin, to Venice, and all the way down to Sicily, Italy was soon afire with the beauty and complexity of this new style. It was everywhere.
Palazzo Carnignano, Turin 
In Turin, the Palazzo Carignano, considered the most flamboyant private house in the 17th century, would have made Borromini smile, while in Venice, the play of light and dark on the ornate façade of Ca’ Pesaro could have been in a painting by the artist Caravaggio.

In Sicily, Sicilian architects took the curves and flourishes of Roman Baroque, and by adding grinning masks and puffy-cheeked putti made it their own. The details in the decoration of the church of San Domenico in Palermo will both surprise and astound you.
San Domenico, Palermo, Sicily
Baroque began in Rome in the 17th century as a way to give the Papacy a means of restoring its place in the world, but it soon became so much more. As it migrated from Rome to all parts of Italy and beyond, it inspired artists and architects, writers and musicians around the world, and it still does today.

Copyright © 2016 Phyllis Macchioni

17 April 2016


ROME, Italy - The guys in the striped balloon pants you see at the Vatican are part of the Pope’s private army. They belong to the Pontifical Swiss Guard, the oldest and smallest active military unit in the world. They serve as personal escorts to the pontiff, and as guards for Vatican City and Castel Gandolfo.
Pope Francis and His Guard

But it’s not all standing around and looking good, even if there is a good chance you would spend a few hours standing guard at the Apostolic Palace, or the Pope’s private apartment. Or you may guard the entrance to the Sistine Chapel once in a while.

When you are not busy standing guard, there are inspections, drills, courses in self-defense and shooting practice. But it’s not all work. You might play in the band or be a member of the soccer team and play a game or two against the Vatican Security Corps. The one thing you won’t have to do is cook. The Albertine Sisters, Servants of God, have that covered. 

Standing Guard at the Sistine Chapel 
In order to qualify as a guard, you must be between 19 and 30 years old, at least 5ft. 8” tall, have Swiss citizenship, be Roman Catholic and not married. You have to have completed basic military training with the Swiss Army, completed courses in body-guarding tactics and earned certificates of good conduct from an ecclesiastical, your parish priest will do, and a civil authority, like the mayor of your town.

During your two to 25 years of service, you would live in the barracks in Vatican City. During this period you will receive advanced training in self-defence, attend shooting practice, learn to speak Italian and study the organizational structure of the Vatican.

 Marching to the Beat of a Different Drummer
The 134 members of the Guard are armed with small arms and a traditional Halberd, a two-handed pole weapon popular during the 14th and 15th centuries. Back then, war was a way of life in Europe, and Italy was often under siege both from within its borders and out.

Within Italy, wars between powerful city-states were common. The Papal States, headed by the Pope, was just as aggressive as other city-states like Milan or Venice, in seeking to take over additional territory. Outside of Italy, both France and Spain, who were aware of Italy’s constant internal turmoil, saw Italy as a weak target, a ripe plum just waiting to be plucked from the tree.
Welcoming New Recruits 
In spite of the constant wars, Italy, France and Spain were relatively rich countries, while Switzerland, which borders both Italy and France, was very poor. Their only asset was the fact that, young Swiss men were willing to fight in anyone’s war. Switzerland became known as a country of mercenaries.

It’s estimated that in the early 1500’s there were about 15,000 Swiss men willing to serve as soldiers of fortune. It was a business, organized and controlled by the Confederation of Swiss Cantons (States). In return, the Confederation received corn, salt, and other commercial goods, important for a country with so few natural resources, and the men were able to support their families.
All in a Day's Work 
As wars were generally fought during the summer, the Swiss considered being a mercenary a summer job. They would go off and fight for a couple of months and then come home for the winter with their pay and their booty. They were very successful as mercenaries and soon earned the reputation of being the best fighting force in Europe.

The best fighting force in Europe was exactly what Pope Sixtus IV (1471-1484) wanted for his war against the Duke of Milan. While Pope Sixtus is remembered for commissioning the Sistine Chapel and establishing the Vatican Library, he was considered one of the most evil popes in history, and generally disliked by the Italians. He knew he couldn’t trust them to protect him, so he contracted a group of Swiss mercenaries to act as his bodyguards. They became the first Pontifical Swiss Guards.
 Button Up Your Overcoat
What the Pope didn’t know and the Swiss did, was that the French King, Charles VIII, was preparing to invade Italy. They had already begun signing up to fight with him and were excited because they believed this war would last longer than just the summer. The longer the war, the more money they made.

They had guessed right. The war lasted for four years, 1494 – 1498. While that first French invasion failed, it set off a series of violent wars for control of Italy. Those wars, known now as the Italian Wars, continued for another fifty years, and didn’t end until 1559.
The Serious Side of the Job 
In the middle of the wars, Pope Sixtus died and his nephew, Cardinal della Rovere, became pope, taking the name Julius II. The year was 1503.  With the Italian Wars well into their ninth year with no solution in sight, it was no surprise when Pope Julius II chose 200 Swiss mercenaries as his personal bodyguards.

In September 1505, the first contingent of 150 Swiss soldiers   began their march toward Rome. They entered the city on 22 January 1506, which is used today as the official date the Papal Guard was founded.

There is no way of knowing what the swearing in ceremony was like back in 1506, but today new Guards are sworn in in the Cortile di San Damaso in the Vatican. It is the first time they get to wear the official blue, red, orange and yellow uniform that is similar to the uniforms they wore in the 16th century. Their unusual metal helmet and metal armor, however, goes back even further for they patterned after the helmets and armor worn by soldiers during the days of the Romans.  
I Swear I will Faithfully, Loyally and Honorably Serve 
As the name of each new guard is called, he stands, holds his hand in a three finger gesture representing the Holy Trinity and repeats this oath:

"I swear I will faithfully, loyally and honorably serve the Supreme Pontiff Francis and his legitimate successors, and also dedicate myself to them with all my strength, sacrificing if necessary also my life to defend them. I assume this same commitment with regard to the Sacred College of Cardinals whenever the see is vacant. Furthermore I promise to the Commanding Captain and my other superiors, respect, fidelity and obedience. This I swear! May God and our Holy Patrons assist me!

Copyright © 2016 Phyllis Macchioni