May 6, 1527, the day of the sack of Rome, marks the greatest day in the history of the Swiss Guard. That morning, Captain General Bourbon launched a series of attacks on Rome. During one of them, at the Torrione Gate, while leading the assault of the walls, he himself was mortally wounded. After just a moment's hesitation, the Spanish mercenaries broke through the Torrione Gate, while the lansquenets invaded the road of Borgo Santo Spirito and St. Peter's. The Swiss Guard, standing firm at the foot of the obelisk (now in St. Peter's Square, but then near the German cemetery within the Vatican close to the Basilica), together with the few remnants of the Roman troops, resisted desperately. Their Captain, Kaspar Röist was wounded, and later killed by the Spaniards in his quarters in front of his wife, Elizabeth Klingler. Of the 189 Swiss Guards, only 42 survived, the ones who, when all was lost, under the command of Hercules Göldli guarded Clement VII’s retreat to safety in Castel Sant’Angelo. The rest fell gloriously, massacred together with two hundred fugitives, on the steps of the High Altar in St. Peter's Basilica. Pope Clement VII and his men were able to escape to safety, thanks to the "Passetto", a secret corridor which Pope Alexander VI had built along the top of the wall connecting the Vatican with Castel Sant’Angelo.
Across the Sisto bridge the lansquenets and Spaniards fell on the city and for eight days committed every sort of violence, theft, sacrilege and massacre, even the tombs of the Popes, including that of Julius II, were violated in search of spoils. There were as many as 12 thousand dead and the booty amounted to ten million ducats.
Viva il Papa! Viva Ecclesia!
Photo by Domini Sumus.