BATTLE OF LEPANTO
BATTLE OF LEPANTO
The late afternoon sunlight streaming through the tall window, bounced off the red carpet of the floor, and cast a crimson glow around the room. Seated at the large , ornately decorated table were four men, deliberating on affairs of state.
Suddenly the one at the end of the table, pushed his chair back, and walked to the window, where he remained for a few moments staring into the sun.
Slowly he returned, moved his chair out of the way, and knelt down with his joined hands resting on the table.
The others quickly followed suit, as they noticed the tears slowly running down his enraptured face. They waited expectantly, in silence, to hear what had moved this great leader so visibly.…...
"Kneel down, gentlemen," he said, "this is no time for business. Let us thank Mary for a singular Christian victory."
Though official word from Lepanto would not arrive for another two to three weeks,
Mary had already granted her beloved servant Pope Pius V a vision in Rome, of that victory in the distant Ionian Sea.
Why NOW? - the story of the Battle of Lepanto - a sea battle which took place on the other side of the world over 400 years ago.
What is so special about it?
Many things are special, as you will read, a little further on, but to answer the question
"Why Now?" - it is because on this day, 7th. October, we celebrate the Feastday of "Our Lady of the Rosary" - and this important feastday of the Church was inaugurated as a direct result of this miraculous victory at Lepanto, off the coast of Greece.
Let us now set the scene - in time and space….
The year is 1571. The combatants are the Muslim forces under Sultan Selim II, son of Suleiman the Magnificent, and the allied Christian forces under the command of Don John of Austria.
Over the previous hundreds of years, Muslim forces had attacked and often conquered many different cities and regions.
In the early 1400's the Ottoman Turks had conquered the entire Byzantine Empire, except for the fortress city of Constantinople. Belgrade fell to them in 1521, Rhodes (long under the rule of the Knights of St. John) in 1522, and Hungary in 1526, with Hungary's King Louis II losing his life in the battle.
The Byzantine Empire had occupied various parts of Asia Minor (present day Turkey) and southeastern Europe for almost 1,000 years. All that ended in 1453, when the Ottomans conquered the Byzantine capital of Constantinople, renaming it Istanbul, and making it the centre of the Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans were Muslims and spread their religion of Islam by the sword, throughout the Empire.
They gained great wealth through trade. Some of the busiest trade routes between Europe and Asia passing right through their empire.
Under Suleiman the Magnificent, between 1520 and 1566 the Ottoman Empire reached its most glorious heights of power and wealth. In the 1500's and 1600's it was the most powerful empire in the whole world. At its zenith it controlled what is present day Turkey, parts of Northern Africa, southwestern Asia and southeastern Europe.
By 1571 the Moslems were firmly entrenched in Europe. Their ships ruled the Mediterranean Sea from end to end - from the Strait of Gibraltar to the Strait of Bosporus, and constantly preyed on Christian vessels.
.In 1571 the Ottomans were a threat to the entire European continent, and were setting out to destroy Christianity in Europe.
Pope Pius V tried to get the Christian Nations of Europe together in a Holy League to stop the Muslim menace.
Approx. 100 years earlier, his predecessor Pope Nicholas V had tried unsuccessfully to organise a Crusade to save Constantinople from the Muslim onslaught, but the Christian Nations were not interested - they were more interested in doing trade deals with the Ottomans.
Pope Pius V however was successful, and enlisted the aid of King Phillip II of Spain, who was also King of Austria.
The Venetians also decided to join this Holy League, since the island of Cyprus, which belonged to the Republic of Venice was being attacked by the Muslims.
Pope Pius V asked King Phillip to appoint the 25 yr. old Don John of Austria, son of the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V, as Commander-in-Chief of the entire fleet.
Don John was Phillip's half-brother.
The Banner of the Holy League was presented to Don John by Cardinal Gravilla, on behalf of the Pope, and Don John's fleet set sail from Genoa to Naples on 26th. June 1571.
Our Lady appeared at Guadalupe in Mexico in 1531, some 40 years earlier, and I had often wondered why the Rosary was not mentioned in her apparitions. However, thinking about it, she appeared to an illiterate elderly Mexican Indian, and at the time the written communications of the Indians was restricted to "word pictures". It would have been very difficult to pass on her Rosary message in this fashion, so she left the teaching of the Rosary for the Bishops and priests.
But there is a very definite connection between the Rosary and Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it came about in the Battle of Lepanto. And that connection is probably further reflected in the fact that World Rosary Day, which we also celebrate today, was started by a group of Mexican laypeople.
Just before Don John's departure, King Phillip presented him with a copy of the miraculous picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe. He placed it in the chapel of the admiral-ship the John Andrea Doria, and asked for Mary's protection for himself and his men in this voyage and the battle to come.
(Picture at right courtesy of These Last Days Ministries, www.tldm.org)
On Sept. 16th. Don John anchored off Corfu, where he learned that the Muslims had razed entire towns and villages and then retreated to the coast of Lepanto (present day Naupaktos) in the Gulf of Corinth.
Finally, at dawn on the 7th. October the 200 ships of the Allied Fleet caught sight of the Turkish fleet in the entrance to the Gulf of Patras.
The far greater Turkish fleet, numbering 273 ships, lined up in a crescent formation, expecting to encircle and destroy the whole of the allied fleet.
Don John lined up his ships in a straight line, and in a smaller fast boat he travelled backwards and forwards across his line of ships, shouting encouragement to his men, as the two fleets drew closer together.
The following paragraphs in italics, are from a remarkable historical document, written on November 12th. 1571, only 35 days after the Battle. The writer was Peter Canisius, a Jesuit, later to be a canonised saint. The information was received from the Archduke of Bavaria, who received the despatches
directly from his first cousin Don John of Austria, the Commander-in-chief of the Holy League's fleet.
"On Sunday, October 7th, God was pleased to bring low the pride of our foes. They came on merrily with a great shout, all their sails and oars in action, absolutely certain of victory. Our men, having first reconciled themselves to God by confession and penance… put their trust in the living God.
" At a certain signal, a crucifix was raised aloft in every ship in the fleet. Don John of Austria, clad in complete armour and standing in a conspicuous place in the prow of the ship, now knelt down to implore God's blessing. Every man followed his example. The soldier, with his firelock at the ready, knelt at his post by the bulwark. The gunner knelt with his lighted match beside his gun. The decks gleamed with kneeling men in mail.
" A stiff, sirocco wind began to blow, causing the battle smoke to drift towards the enemies'ships, so that they could not see our position. It was the work of God that 180 Galleys were captured or sent to the bottom, that the Christians held captive on the Turkish ships turned their arms against their captors, and that the Catholic fleet should gain in the space of four hours a triumph without its like in Church history. The Turkish chiefs, without exception and 30,000 Turkish soldiers were killed or captured."
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