The Line Held at Lepanto

Today is the 436th anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto. On October 7, 1571, against overwhelming odds, a ragtag fleet from the Christian West faced the Ottoman Empire. Christianity had been retreating for the last thousand years. Islam had conquered North Africa, Spain, Sicily, Portugal and part of France.

At Lepanto, the retreat stopped. It was a turning point in history that is all but forgotten today.

The two greatest naval forces ever assembled — 280 ships in the Turkish Armada, some 212 on the Christian side — came into each other’s sight on the brilliant morning of October 7. So confident was the Turkish admiral, Ali Pasha, that he sailed proudly at the center of his own Armada, bringing with him on vessels just to his rear his entire fortune, and even a part of his harem.

Historians tell us that all over Europe a pall fell. Few had hopes that the Christian fleet could avoid the doom that seemed to hang over Italy. The pope had urged all Christians to say the rosary daily on behalf of the brave crews on the Christian galleys. The rosary is a simple prayer that can be said in almost any setting, and had already achieved a certain popularity among humble folk. With each decade of the Hail Marys they had been taught to reflect upon a different event in the life of Jesus. The beads went through one’s fingers as regularly as the blood through one’s body, as regular as heartbeats and the breathing of the lungs.

To make a long story short, Don Juan aimed his own galley directly at the heart of the Turkish armada, directly at the clearly colored sails of the Ali Pasha’s galley, with its great green flag, inscribed 28,000 times with the name of Allah in gold. The Venetian vessels sailed furiously into the Turkish right wing, and with the help of the revolt of the galley slaves collapsed that wing. Six of the largest Christian vessels had been outfitted with a platform elevated above normal levels on which rows of devastating cannons were arrayed. Blasts from these new cannons were withering, and within minutes sank dozens of Turkish ships. The sea, witnesses said, was covered with flailing sailors, floating turbans, pieces of wood and sail.

The passion for defending their own civilization against ruthless invaders also strengthened the muscles of those engaged in the close, bloody, violent hand-fighting when one vessel came alongside another. But it was mainly the new firepower of the smaller Christian fleet that quickly sank galley after galley until, after not too many hours, the Turkish center also collapsed, as if cut through by a hot knife. The Admiral’s galley was captured, along with 240 more Turkish ships. Only on the other flank some Christian vessels hesitated, approached the enemy half-heartedly, and thus spurred defections by still other vessels. Although even there some acts of heroism appeared, a number of Turkish vessels were able to slip away through that gap in the battleline.

The Christian victory was far more complete than anyone had dreamed. The victory seemed to many quite miraculous, and victory was immediately attributed to Our Lady Queen of the Rosary — soon to be called by a new title, Our Lady Queen of Victory. All over Europe, from city to town, church bells rang out continuously when news of the impressive victory arrived. MORE

Today, with Islam again menacing the West, we would do well to remember Lepanto and honor the Queen of Victory. She is with us still. Be not afraid.

Interesting Links:
Clash of Civilizations: Battle of Lepanto Revisited
Wikipedia entry: Battle of Lepanto
Remembering Lepanto
Poem: Our Lady of Victory
Video: Men of the West

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