of the Rosary
Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. This is an unbelievable, truly remarkable, utterly miraculous feast based on one of the most important battles of human history.
Other than that it’s really no big deal.
The Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was instituted to commemorate the miraculous intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571. The Feast was instituted by Pope St. Pius V, and originally it was held in honor of Our Lady of Victory (more on that later in the article).
Before I go any further, I want to make sure that I link to a great article about Lepanto that was published in a great magazine by a great Catholic scholar: “The Battle that Saved the Christian West” by Christopher Check in This Rock magazine. (Check out its archives.)
So, here are the details:
- In the mid 1400s, the Ottoman Turks were conquering Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire (1453) and spreading Islam across southeastern Europe (the Balkan Peninsula, Hungary, Belgrade, and even to the gates of Vienna!)
- By 1564, the Christian Europeans had not really been able to check the Muslim Turk invasion (the one exception was at Vienna). The Turks had been under the leadership of Suleiman the Magnificient for decades, and their empire was at its height of glory.
- Now, the Turks, in 1565, were threatening the island of Malta. The tiny island lies just south of Italy and in the middle of the Mediterranean shipping lanes. Control of Malta was key to the control of international trade, and Italy itself — and, of course, Rome, the very seat of the Christian world.
- Protecting Malta was a small force of 700 dedicated Catholic Christians, the Knights of St. John. But, the heart of Europe was still reeling from the heretical schisms of Protestantism. The brave band of Knights held off 40,000 Turks. Suleiman swore revenge.
- At this point, I really must insist that after you finish my “Nick’s Notes” version, you pop over to catholic.com to read Chris Check’s article on this. Read about the role the brave Hungarians played.
- Suleiman died in 1566, and his son, Selim “The Sot”, took the throne. Selim conquered Cyprus, slaughtering the 500 Venetians who garrisoned the city of Nicosia. The women and children were gathered up as (sex) slaves back in the Ottoman Empire.
- Then, in 1570 God gave to the Church and the world Pope Pius V – make that Pope Saint Pius V. Pius V faced both Protestantism and Islam square on — and succeeded.
- Here I quote from Chris Check’s article, “During his six-year reign, he promulgated the Council of Trent, published the works of Thomas Aquinas, issued the Roman Catechism and a new missal and breviary, created twenty-one cardinals, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, and, aided by St. Charles Borromeo, led the reform of a soft and degenerate clergy and episcopacy.” Now, that what I call God’s work.
- Pope St. Pius V, not coincidental to this story, was a Dominican. As tradition tells us, the prayers of the Rosary were revealed by the Blessed Virgin to St. Dominic. Like any good Dominican (and Catholic) Pius was devoted to the power of the intercession of the Blessed Virgin through the prayers of the Rosary.
- By the way, Elizabeth I actually enlisted the Turks in her wars against Spain. Just though I’d add that in case you might have had an overly active love for Good Queen Bess. Oh, and the French were no good in this either.
- Pius recognizes the threat of the Turks, and convinces several European powers to assemble their armed forces meet the Turks in battle. This became the Holy League. It almost didn’t happen, though. It took divine intervention to encourage the most important member, Venice, with its huge galleys, to join.
- Commissioned as the leader of the Holy League was Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of Holy Roman Emperor Charles V and half-brother to Spain’s King Phillip II.
- By Sept. 28, 1571, the Don John’s navy was anchored off the western coast of Greece, near the Gulf of Patras. The Holy League was outfitted with around 208 galleys; while the Turks had nearly 300.
- Priest were busy on the decks of the Christian ships, saying Mass and hearing confessions. Don John gave each sailor a Rosary. As Chris Check puts it, “On the eve of battle, the men of the Holy League prepared their souls by falling to their knees on the decks of their galleys and praying the Rosary. Back in Rome, and up and down the Italian Peninsula, at the behest of Pius V, the churches were filled with the faithful telling their beads. In Heaven, the Blessed Mother, her Immaculate Heart aflame, was listening.“
- At dawn, Oct. 7, 1571, it was time for war. The Christians sailed east into the Gulf of Patras AGAINST THE WIND with the Turk fleet before them. At this moment, the Blessed Virgin intervened. The wind turned 180 degrees, putting it at the backs of the Christian fleet, and into the faces of the Muslim Turks.
- During the battle Don John unfurled the Holy League’s banner: a field of blue with an image of Christ crucified. During the battle, the Holy League captured the Turk standard: a banner supposedly carried by Muhammed himself into battle with the name of Allah stitched onto it nearly 29,000 times.
- The five-hour Battle of Lepanto was a complete rout of the Turkish force. Nearly every Turkish ship was sunk or captured. More than 30,000 Turks were killed. By comparison, the Holy League lost only about 12 ships and about 8,000 men. Also, the Holy League freed about 10,000 Christian slaves who were forced to work the Turkish oars.
- The Battle of Lepanto marked the end of Muslim Turkish supremacy in the Mediterranean Sea.
- Make no mistake, the victory was entirely due to the power of God; through the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary with His Son, Jesus Christ. Hundreds of miles away, in Rome, while the battle raged, Pius V was in a meeting with his cardinals. He stopped the meeting. In the sky, the Blessed Virgin showed him an image of the victory. “Turning to his cardinals he said, “Let us set aside business and fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God, for he has given our fleet a great victory.”
- Pope St. Pius V then ordered that the first Sunday in October be set as a feast to commemorate Our Lady of Victory, the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1573, Pope Gregory XIII changed the name to the Feast of the Holy Rosary. In 1913, the date was changed to Oct. 7. In 1969, the name was changed to the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Since you’ve followed through with me this far, let me make good on a promise I made earlier; let me tell you an interesting tidbit about Our Lady of Victory. I teach at Ville Platte High School. Our student body is overwhelmingly Protestant/non-practicing.
After a football game a couple of years ago, as most teams do, our players knelt to pray the Our Father. Then, they did a strange – a cool, but a strange – thing. The team Captain stood up and said, “Our Lady of Victory…“. And, as good Catholics would know, the response from the players came back, “…Pray for us.”
At school on Monday, I asked the Captain (who is not Catholic) if he knew who Our Lady of Victory was. Of course, he didn’t. So, I told him, and he seemed interested. It gave me goosebumps to think that our Protestant brothers could pray to the saints – to the Blessed Virgin – along with us Catholics. That’s cool.
So, let us all pray:
Our Lady of Victory, pray for us.