Lepanto: 435

Today is the memorial of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly celebrated as Our Lady of Victory, which the Catholic Church celebrates to commemorate the victory of the Christian fleet over the Turks at Lepanto, October 7, 1571. This was the first major victory of the West against the Muslims at sea, a military, political and cultural milestone of great importance. Prior to that day, the onrush of the Ottomans had seemed unstoppable. The Turks were not similarly checked on land until 1683, at Vienna. Prior to the battle, Pope St. Pius V asked the faithful to pray the rosary for what appeared to be an unlikely victory, and the victory was attributed to her intercession. The Turkish galleys were propelled by Christian captives taken and held as slaves.

G.K. Chesterton wrote a very stirring poem about the battle.

4 thoughts on “Lepanto: 435”

  1. By coincidence, I just finished reading Stephen O’Shea’s Sea of Faith: Islam and Christianity in the Medieval Mediterranean World, about the Christian/Islamic conflicts and convivencia from Yarmuk (636) to Malta (1565). Here’s what he says about Lepanto:

    In the improbably course of human events, the improbably successful defense of Malta in 1565 punctured, once and for all, the idea of an inexorable Turkish tide. It was a galvanizing moment, as powerful in its repercussions, if not in its site, as Alaric in Rome or the Mongols in Baghdad. Six years after the Turkish failure here, the fleets of fractious and soon to be imploded Christendom momentarily united and met the Ottoman navy at Lepanto…. There erstwhile rivals with mixed motives–Venetians and Habsburgs–combined for one brief historical instant to deal a devasting blow to the Turkish fleet. Their temporary union was called, with a solemn fact, the “Holy Alliance”–leading to a commonplace in western histories that places Lepanto as the closing of a parenthesis opened at Poiters. Yet Lepanto was not possible, not imaginable, not even probably without Malta. The siege of Malta marked the end of the age of Turkish supremacy in the Mediterranean; Lepanto, the halting beginnings of an early modern donnybrook over whose fleet or whose pirates would gain the upper hand in slaving and looting. To students of the soul, Lepanto’s prime importance lies in the survival of its most important combatant, Cervantes, who almost met his death there. (Pp 307-8)

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