Saturday, October 07, 2006

Lepanto/Our Lady of the Rosary

On this day in 1571, the Muslim navy was defeated.

Today, Christians quietly recall the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto, Oct. 7, 1571. On that date the forces of Islam battled the Holy League in a crucial engagement at Lepanto, the modern day Gulf of Corinth

The Ottoman Turks had attacked and captured Christian strongholds throughout the Mediterranean. Their strategy was to control the sea, the trade routes, and thus crush European navies and commerce. In 1522, the Knights of St. John were driven from Rhodes by the Moslems. The year 1529 saw an attack on Vienna. By 1570 Cyprus was under siege.

According to historian H.W. Crocker III, the Turks skinned the commander of Cyprus while the officer was still alive. More than 12,000 Christians were enslaved on Moslem galleys, lashed to the oars of Turkish ships that then threatened Europe. Feared as "invincible," the Moslem fleet terrorized cities along the coasts of Italy and Greece.

The Turkish fleet, under the command of Ali Pasha, gathered at Lepanto (Gulf of Corinth). They were reinforced with lawless Corsairs under the command of the ferocious Moslem pirate, Uluch Ali.

Europe's Holy League was an allied fleet of the Knights of Malta, Spanish, Venetian and Papal ships assembled by Pope Pius the V. The famous Don Juan of Austria, assisted by equally famous Andrea Dorian, led the Holy League. Maritime historians note that the Battle of Lepanto was the last of the great sea battles between oared vessels, and the largest battle since the Battle of Actium in 30 B.C.

As the day dawned over Lepanto, in Rome Pius V called the faithful to the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore. There he led the people to pray, [specifically, to pray the Rosary] asking God for a Christian victory. Throughout the morning the prayers of the people continued until, it is said, the pope had a vision of the victory and shouted, "Our great task at present is to thank God for the victory which He has just given us.

The Battle of Lepanto sacrificed nearly 8,000 European soldiers who had fought under Don Juan. Yet, the Moslem forces suffered catastrophic losses; more than 25,000 perished. Don Juan rescued the 12,000 Catholic galley slaves. All Christendom rejoiced.

Jonathan Last of the Philadelphia Inquirer noted, "As Pope Benedict XVI explains in his book 'Without Roots,' the very concept of 'Europe' emerged as a reaction to the surge of Islam. Not until the failure of the second Turkish siege of Vienna in 1683 did the Islamic tide recede definitively [the battle of Vienna was won by Jan Sobieski, King of Poland.]

We still owe thanks to Our Lady of the Rosary.

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