Tuesday, August 14, 2007

Otranto, and Why You Should Know of It

We look today at an invasion of a different sort, but with the same actors: the Mohammedans are the aggressors today, too.

In 1453, at the head of an army of 260,000 Turks, Mohammed II had conquered Byzantium, the “second Rome,” and from that moment he developed the plan of wiping out the “first Rome,” Rome true and proper, and of turning Saint Peter’s basilica into a stall for his horses. In June of 1480, he judged the time was right to go into action: he lifted the siege from Rhodes, which was defended courageously by its knights, and directed his fleet toward the Adriatic Sea. His intention was to land at Brindisi, which had an excellent, spacious harbor: from Brindisi, he planned to move northward up Italy until he reached the see of the papacy. But a strong contrary wind forced the ships to touch ground fifty miles to the south, and to disembark in a place called Roca, a few kilometers from Otranto.

Otranto's citizens resisted. It took two weeks to breach the walls and sack the town.

Ahmed condemned all the eight hundred [all civilians] prisoners to death. The following morning, they were led with ropes tied around their necks and their hands bound behind their backs to the Hill of Minerva, a few hundred meters outside of the city. De Marco writes: “All of them repeated their profession of the faith and the generous response they had given at first, so the tyrant commanded that the decapitation should proceed, and, before the others, the head of the elderly Primaldo should be cut off. Primaldo was hateful to him, because he never stopped acting as an apostle toward his fellows. And before placing his head upon the stone, he told his companions that he saw heaven opened and the comforting angels; that they should be strong in the faith and look to heaven, already open to receive them. He bowed his head and it was cut off, but his corpse stood back up on its feet, and despite the efforts of the butchers, it remained erect and unmoving, until all were decapitated. The marvelous and astonishing event would have been a lesson of salvation for those infidels, if they had not been rebels against the light that enlightens every man who lives in the world.

Because of the two-week delay, reinforcements from Calabria arrived and staved off the Turkish Mohammedans. Eventually, in 1481, they returned to Turkey, having been expelled from Otranto by the Calabrese.

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