This here is a home-made (but well-made; I would like to know whose music this is) video showing the events leading to the battle. The long siege in Cyprus, the surrender, the treason and torture which followed, and the cruel events becoming a wake-up call for Europe. Whilst it is clear that a showdown was in the cards anyway (Venice had been carefully planning the conflict on its own for years before the fall of Cyprus and wanted to counter the bigger force of the Ottoman with superior technology) it is undeniable that traumatic events do play a big role in actually precipitating planned war scenarios.
In our case, the destiny of Marcantonio Bragadino (in my time, mandatory patriotic school fare; I hope it has remained that way) and of the poor defenders of Cyprus certainly gave more than an appetiser of what would become more and more frequent along Southern Italian coasts if not checked, let alone what would have happened if Rome itself had fallen in the hands of the Ottoman.
It seems that there is a common thread linking Vienna and Lepanto. An increasing threat is perceived as such, but without this creating a generalised and compact desire to react to the enemy; until something huge happens, traumatic and life-changing, and this event impresses itself in the collective consciousness of Christianity and leads, with more or less immediacy, to individual diplomacy being cast aside and the sword of Christ taking the word.
This has happened in the 1070s, with the traumatic exclusion of Christian pilgrims from the Holy Land (an event whose extent we can barely imagine today, and of cataclysmic proportions for the contemporaries) and, after the failure of a long-winded “peace process”, the decision of a strong Pope to react with open warfare. This has happened again with Bragadino’s cruel end, and again with the sieges of Vienna. Every time, though, there has been a reaction.
We can now make a parallel with the resurgent Islamic fundamentalism (a phenomenon very similar to the one leading to the closing of Jerusalem to Christian pilgrimages in the XI century) and with Nine Eleven, an event which would be extremely stupid to analyse merely in political or sociological terms, particularly when the authors of the act don’t even dream of doing it themselves.
We can only hope that – as happened in the XI century – a traumatic event will, in time, make Christianity aware not only of the need to fight an approaching danger with due decisiveness, but also to a growing awareness of the great strenght of the Christian West and of the possibility it has to wipe out – if sufficiently cohesive and united under God – every adversary and every threat.
This fragment of a documentary is in Italian [click “watch on you tube” and disable the mute if you have no audio] and will be less accessible to those not blessed with the knowledge of Dante’s Language. Still, music and reconstruction are beautiful and the product is well made.
1) Don Juan reports of having kneeled and asked for heavenly help in front of his soldiers, who did the same.he was the commander-in-Chief of the Holy League, but he still knew who his Commander-in-Chief was.
2) The documentary stresses the importance of the superior Western technology: Venice’s new type of war ship (“Galeazza”, as opposed to the typical “Galeone”) was able to fire from all sides and much more difficult to board. According to the documentary, this and the superior quality of Western cannons played an important role.
3) Don Juan promised freedom to the Holy League prisoners employed as forced oarsmen and they participated to the assault of the Ottoman vessels. In those days, naval battles were, so to speak, also traditional battles as you had foot soldiers on your ship trying to board and take enemy vessels. As far as I know, both the Royal Marines and the US Marines originate from this kind of warfare.
4) The documentary has a beautiful and powerful image starting from 2:43. The commenter says “the battle went on savagely for hours, and ended in a carnage”. As these words are pronounced, an imaginary camera goes along the blade of a sword and when the word “carnage” is pronounced the hilt of the sword is showed, forming a clear… cross.
The image of the Cross being also a Sword is a famous symbol of the middle ages, visible in countless representations of tombs with the sword held in such a way that it is clearly a sword but it forms a cross on the breast of the deceased. The creator of this documentary knows his Christian imagery.
5) A Te Deum was celebrated in Venice as the fleet was coming home. One imagines what an unforgettable moment it must have been for the Venetians. As always, Italians have a strong sense of drama.
6) Even today, every year, the Vatican celebrates the victory inviting the descendants of those brave soldiers.
On the 7th October of 1571, one of the greatest naval battles of all times took place in Lepanto, off western Greece, between the Holy League of several European countries and potentates (mainly: Spain and Venice) and the then extremely feared Ottoman Empire. The Ottomans had not lost a naval battle for centuries and their expansion in Mediterranean waters had become so dangerous that an attack on Rome was not out of the question anymore.
The battle proved such a stunning victory that the Ottomans never regained their former supremacy on the Mediterranean. Interestingly, this was due not to the difficulty or cost of replacing the material (the Ottoman suffered an almost annihilation of their fleet but with a huge effort had their fleet completely rebuilt in around a year), but in the impossibility of recreating an entire generation of skilled soldier and archers, whose training was extremely long and expensive and whose ranks suffered extremely heavy losses during the battle.
The Ottomans lost not only 210 of their 240 vessels, but between 15,000 and 30,000 soldiers or sailors. The Holy league’s losses were limited to the loss of 7,500 soldiers and sailors (but with the liberation of around the same number in Christian prisoners enslaved as oarsmen in the Ottoman fleet) and the loss of merely 20 vessels in battle, plus further 30 that had to be scuttled.
Together with the two sieges of Vienna (I have written about the second one here), the battle of Lepanto constitutes one of the most dramatic – and perhaps the most glorious – page in the history of the brave fight of Christianity against the Ottomans. The fact that at the time of the second siege of Vienna (more than one century later) the Ottomans were still at the height of their power on land but had never managed to regain supremacy on the sea gives you an idea of the extent of the defeat and of the trauma it caused among the Ottomans.
The Holy League stood under the protection of the Blessed Virgin, with a huge Rosary procession celebrated in Rome on the day which turned out to be the same one of the battle. Andrea Doria, the commander of the Venice Fleet, had in his room a portrait of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
After the spectacular victory, the great Pope St. Pius V instituted the Feast of Our Lady of Victory to commemorate the event. The name of the feast was changed a couple of times and it is now Our Lady of the Rosary.
The 7th October is a great day for Christianity. All too easily we forget that even if these events now belong to a remote past, the consequences of they turning out differently would be still felt today. Who knows whether – in that case – your truly would be here today, writing a Christian blog.
The Rosary is an extremely powerful weapon. We should remember it more often in our daily life, facing the enemies of abortion, divorce, homosexuality, aggressive atheism, and heresy in general. Those who wish it may find additional information about the Rosary here.
In the last days another, less-remembered anniversary occurred: on the 11 and 12 September 1683 a decisive battle was won to protect Vienna from a second Ottoman assault (a first siege had been attempted in 1529).
The Ottomans had arrived to Vienna (well protected, but badly manned) on the 14th July with an army 150,000 strong (butthey might have been up to double as much) and had asked for surrender. But this being the religion of peace, surrender was never a very safe matter: just some days before, the little fortified city of Perchtolsdorf had been destroyed after surrender, with many of his inhabitants killed or enslaved. The commander of the Austrian defenders, Count von Starhemberg, was not what you’d call a wimp. He refused to surrender and led the strenuous defence of the city for the following almost two months, a time marked by great deprivations and many a casualty and by a constant struggle against the tunneling attempt of the Ottomans and their attacks to single fortified towers; all this whilst the walls (modern ones, we must imagine, with inside earth walls to prevent their destruction through cannon fire) slowly crumbled under the explosions.
At the beginning of September, the heroic inhabitants of the city were preparing for a last desperate fight on the streets of Vienna, as it was generally acknowledged that the defences (already broken in places) wouldn’t prevent a massive attack for long.
But the Habsburg diplomacy had done a fine job during the preceding winter, in preparation of the military operations sure to begin in the coming months. A solid alliance was created, with Bavaria, Swabia, Saxony and – most importantly – the mighty Polish army ready to fight at their side. The Pope Innocent XI had encouraged the initiative and this became an alliance held together by religious, besides political, motives, called the Holy League. This cohesion was to prove decisive.
A massive relief army, more than 80,000 strong, arrived near Vienna on the 5th September, with the defenders now in a desperate situation.
Even being so varied and with so much potential for quarrel and discord, the leaders of the various armies, all united by their Christian faith, quickly took all necessary decisions and were ready for battle in just a few days under the command of the King of Poland, Jan III Sobielski.
A different picture presented itself on the opposite camp: the alliance of Ottomans and several (largely Protestant, as I understand) local potentates (the principality of Transylvania, Valachia and Moldavia) was not so united and actually the Christians among them not even so willing. Among the Ottoman warlords rivalries and jealousies were ripe and the Christian principalities already began to mistrust the Ottoman “liberator” and to resent the tributes it imposed and the interference in their internal affair it tried to exercise. How reliable the Ottomans were with their promises (one of them, to leave the conquered Vienna to their Christian allies) we have already seen in Perchtolsdorf. As so often in military history, a 150,000 strong army was not sure of victory against a much smaller but more motivated and qualitatively strong army (and with the Holy League disposing of the excellent cavalry of the Poles).
It began on the early hours of the 12th September, with the Ottomans attacking first to prevent the Christian army from orderly deploying their troops. The disciplined infantry of the Holy League bravely fought an entire day against a much stronger enemy, whilst overt or covert refusals to obey the orders of the Ottoman commander-in-chief, Mustafa Pasha, on the other side made the conduct of the Ottoman operations more difficult. The infantry battle raged for about twelve hours whilst the Holy League cavalry watched from a nearby hill, waiting for the right time. This hill was called Kahlenberg, and was to give its name to the battle.
At 5pm, with the Ottoman army now worn and dispirited by more than twelve hours of fighting, the probably greatest cavalry charge of all times was launched with four groups (one Austro-German, the other three exclusively Polish) simultaneously attacking the Ottomans. This proved decisive: the Ottomans lines were broken and they were dispersed. At dusk the battle was clearly won with the Ottomans in a rout.
The blow was a harsh one for the Ottomans. The human losses heavy (10% of the soldiers), but also with all cannons lost in the precipitous retreat. The Holy League losses were limited to around 5% of their own soldiers. The loot was unprecedented.
This was the battle that saved Europe from having the Ottomans right at the heart of Mitteleuropa and the one that marked the beginning of their decline. They never came anywhere near Vienna again, the ascent of the Habsburgs in the following decades put them more and more in the defensive whilst their corruption and decadence undermined their strenght from the inside; two hundred years later they survived courtesy of the European powers, weary of the wars that would erupt to divide the spoils of a giant now evidently so easy to slain.
Mustafa Pasha was executed fifteen months after the battle in Belgrade (he was strangled with a silk rope pulled by several men on each side, as was the custom of those people). King Jan III Sobielski reached legendary popularity. The Pope Innocent XI extended the feast of the Holy Name of Mary – until then celebrated only locally – to the rest of Christianity. The feast is celebrated on the 12th september.
Together with the battle of Lepanto and a few others (the First Crusade comes to mind), this is considered one of the greatest military achievements in the history of Christianity.
It is something worth remembering, because the rhetoric of peace must not induce us to easy complacency or, worse, wet pacifism.
Christianity still has enemies, and always will. But it also has brave soldiers of Christ, the Mother of God, St. Michael the Archangel and the promises of Christ.