2021 will mark the 450th anniversary of the victory of the Christian fleet in the sea battle of Lepanto.
(Madrid) October 7, 2021 will mark the 450th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto. The Christian fleet triumphed over the Islamic invasion in 1571 and was able to break Ottoman naval rule in the Mediterranean. The Bishop of the Spanish diocese of Alcalá de Henares, Msgr. Juan Antonio Reig Pla, proclaimed a Marian Jubilee in thanks for the victory and in memory of it. This is a suggestion that should also be taken up by the dioceses of the German-speaking area.
Society without Christian identity
The two battles of Vienna and the battle of Lepanto historically Mark the successful defense of the second wave of Islamic conquests. A first invasion was stopped in the west by the Franks under Charles Martell in the early 8th century.
A tough defensive battle
In 1529 the Turks faced Vienna for the first time. Since 1354, they had pushed their way unstoppably into Europe as conquerors and oppressors across the Balkans. It was only before Vienna that the countries of the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation, especially the Habsburgs, succeeded in stopping the advance. But the danger was not over yet.
The Ottoman Empire remained a dangerous threat on land and controlled the Mediterranean by sea, which had become extremely dangerous for Europe's shipping traffic by the Muslims, whether as regular troops of the Sultan in the eastern or as pirates in the western Mediterranean. In 1570 the Turks had also conquered the island of Cyprus, the easternmost Christian area that until then had asserted itself against Islam.
It was only through the successful victory of the Christian fleet at Lepanto (in Greek Naupaktos) that Turkish naval rule was broken. With this, the terrible danger was taken from the European coasts, which itself was burned cruelly and bloodily into the history of every coastal place in Italy, Dalmatia, Albania and Greece. The sea route has also become safer again for trade and passenger traffic.
With the second successful defense against the Turks in front of Vienna in 1683, it was finally possible to overcome the Islamic threat on land and herald the end of Turkish rule on European soil.
The three Christian commanders in chief
In both Lepanto in 1571 and in front of Vienna in 1683, the defense of Europe rested on the shoulders of the Catholic states, while the Protestant states watched. It is also important to remember that. It was the Catholic powers that saved Europe from being overrun and conquered by Islam. In the naval battle, this merit went mainly to the Maritime Republic of Venice, the Papal states and the Spanish Habsburg Empire.
Only the tireless efforts of Pope Pius V had succeeded in uniting the fleets of these three powers in the Holy League under one command. There were also smaller Italian states. the Maritime Republic of Genoa and the Order of Knights of Malta. The supreme command was given to the 24 year old Johann of Austria, better known as Don Juan d'Austria, an illegitimate son of Emperor Charles V. At his side stood the commanders of the papal fleet, Marcantonio Colonna, the Venetian fleet, Sebastiano Venier, and the Fleet of the Order of Malta, Admiral Pietro Giustiniani.
The outcome of the battle was uncertain for a long time, but after five endless hours of battle, favorable winds brought about a happy turning point, which was awarded by the victors to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary.
In the sign of the cross and the intercession of Mary
On June 11, 1570, the papal admiral Marcantonio Colonna received the eight-meter-long standard from the Pope in St. Peter's Basilica, under which he sailed into the sea battle the following year. On it the crucified one is depicted, under the cross the princes of the apostles Peter and Paul and the inscription related to the cross “In hoc signo vinces” (In this sign you will conquer). The standard is now kept in the Diocesan Museum of Gaeta. Previously it was in Gaeta Cathedral, where it was damaged by an English air raid during World War II. It was then brought to safety in the Vatican until the end of the war and has been restored three times since the end of the war, most recently in 2007/2008.
Standard of the Holy League, which was set on the admiral ship of Don Juan de Austria
The name of Marcantonio Colonna recently gained fame again as the pseudonym of the British historian and Knight of Malta Henry Sire, who published the book “The Dictator Pope” on the pontificate of Pope Francis under this name.
The standard of the Holy League, under which the Regensburg-born Don Juan d'Austria sailed, shows the crucified Lord, framed at the foot of the cross by the coats of arms of Pius V, Charles V (for the countries of the Spanish crown, but also as a reference to the Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation), the Maritime Republic of Venice and Don Juan. All coats of arms are linked by a chain to symbolize the Alliance of the Holy League. The standard was kept in Toledo Cathedral for 350 years and has been in the Museo de Santa Cruz there since 1961. The young Don Juan d’Austria received them in Barcelona in a solemn ceremony in front of the altar.
Don Juan's flag with the double-headed eagle
At Don Juan's side, his nephews, the sons of Emperor Maximilian II, Archdukes Rudolf and Ernst, also fought as ship commanders. Rudolf was to become emperor himself in 1576 as Rudolf II. Ernst became regent of Inner Austria (Styria, Carinthia, Krain, Gorizia and Trieste) for his nephew, who was still underage, and shortly before his death governor of the Netherlands.
One of the Christian fighters in Lepanto was the Spanish national poet Miguel de Cervantes, who came from Alcalà de Hernanes and, like Don Juan, was 24 years old at the time. Hit by three Turkish bullets, he survived the battle. However, his left hand remained paralyzed. Don Juan himself certified his bravery. A few years later he was captured by Muslim pirates and sold as a slave in Algiers. He was ransomed by members of the Order of the Most Holy Trinity and the Ransom of Prisoners, better known as the Trinitarian Order. The episode illustrates the cruelty and legal uncertainty that prevailed in the Mediterranean at the time due to Islam.
The rosary and the vision of victory
When the enemy came into sight off Lepanto on October 7, only the admiral ship of the Christian League was flagged, the galley La Real (The Royal) of Don Juan. The Ottomans could only see the standard of the crucified and the flag with the representation of the Mother of God Maria and the inscription S. Maria succurre miseris (Holy Mary, help of the needy). It was not the individual states that counted at that moment, but the unity of Christianity, which had gathered together under the sign of the cross to ward off the enemy. Meanwhile, the Christian soldiers gathered on the decks of the ships and prayed together. The battle, before which all Christian ships set the flag, was all about the rosary and its mysteries.
Pius V, who through his unshakable personal commitment, had succeeded in unifying the Catholic powers, prayed, fasted and performed penances for the Christian fleet. He also urged the cardinals and the faithful to fast and pray for the soldiers at sea, especially the rosary. The Pope himself led the way in an exemplary manner and held three fast days a week.
On the day of the battle he called the people of Rome together for penitential processions and a storm of prayer. The Blessed Mother should be called upon for assistance and help. The Pope repeatedly visited the patriarchal basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore to pray in front of the ancient image of the Virgin, Salus Populi Romani.
On that October 7th, 1571, he was suddenly shown the victory of the Christian fleet in a vision. During an audience he hurried to the window of the Apostolic Palace and remained there motionless for several minutes, according to contemporary reports. Suddenly, deeply moved, he turned to those present and ordered them to meet at the church immediately to thank God for the victory.
Pius V in prayer is shown victory by the angel. A representation of Mary can be seen above the battle
Of the 340 Turkish ships, 50 were sunk and 137 were captured. The victors managed to free 15,000 galley slaves, mostly Christians.
The actual news of the victory did not reach Rome until 23 days later, brought by the messengers of Prince Colonna. Then it turned out that the time when the Pope was shown victory actually coincided with it. When Pius V heard this, the Pope had tears in his eyes, as his contemporaries noted. The triumph of Lepanto was attributed to the intercession of the Virgin Mary, so that in 1572 St. Pius V introduced October 7th as the feast day of Our Lady of Victory. Pope Gregory XIII then renamed it the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary.
Visualize the victory and it’s circumstances
Bishop Juan Antonio Reig Pla of Alcalá de Henares, one of the outstanding bishops of Spain, wants to remind the believing people of this great event in the history of Europe and Christianity, of the victory and its context. The whole of the coming year, which he proclaimed to be the Marian Year of Jubilee, should serve this purpose. It starts next Sunday, November 28th, will peak on October 7th, 2021 and end on November 20th, 2021. The opening ceremony will be carried out by Bishop Reig Pla himself.
In 732 the Franks under Charles Martell were able to repel the Islamic invasion in the west. In 1571 the same happened in the east at sea and in 1683 also on land. The sea battle of Lepanto teaches what it means in the Lord's Prayer: “Fiat voluntas tua in coelo et in terra” (Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven). God is the master of history. His intervention is possible at any time and it happens, especially through the intercession of the Blessed Mother of God, the help of Christians and mediator of all graces.
So it remains to be hoped and wished that other bishops, especially those of the German-speaking area, and the faithful do not forget this important historical event or even hide it out of misunderstood "dialogue". After all, two of the central figures of the events at that time, Don Juan d’Austria and King Philip II, but also numerous others, came from its midst. And finally, the Battle of Lepanto is inseparable from the liberation of the Turks in front of Vienna.
Text: Giuseppe Nardi
Trans: Tancred firstname.lastname@example.org