So I’ve been watching the show “The Borgias” and it really has given me an interest in a man named Cardinal Giuliano della Rovere. Constantly fighting with Pope Alexander VI and plotting against his fellow cardinals, he is eventually elected Pope and takes the name Julius II. His papacy brought two things that have endured to the present day: Swiss Guardsmen and the Sistine Chapel ceiling.
Recognizing he needed a security force, he hired Swiss soldiers which were widely considered the best mercenaries across Europe. They defended the pope during the Sack of Rome in 1527, dug their heels in during World War II, and to this day they continue to protect the pope (and apparently they carry some serious firepower – submachine guns with armor piercing rounds and modern heavy caliber pistols).
Legend has it that when Michelangelo was painting the Sistine Chapel ceiling he needed extra money to buy supplies and pay his workers and Pope Julius II refused to give him any extra money. Michelangelo got on his knees and begged the Pope for more money saying “For the sake of Peter, please give me more funds.” This is where we get the phrase: “for Pete’s sake.”
So next time you’re in Vatican City and take pictures with the Swiss Guard or stare in awe at the Sistine Chapel ceiling, remember to thank Pope Julius II.