The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/25 – Our Lady of the Rosary at the Battle of Lepanto

In the fifteenth century, the Dominican Blessed De La Roche particularly defended the Holy Rosary, advocating it to his followers from the monastery of Dinan in France. Blessed Alan was chosen from heaven to carry out this mission and in 1464, following the apparitions by Our Lord, Our Lady and Saint Dominic, Blessed Alan dedicated the rest of his life at preaching the fifteen mysteries. In 1569, the Dominican Pope Saint Pius V listed in his ‘Consueverunt’ the fifteen mysteries of the Holy Rosary, thus approving and encouraging its recitation. Finally, it was the naval battle at Lepanto of 1571, that made Pope Pius V recognize Our Lady’s intervention and the supernatural/material influence of this prayer. Pius V instituted the Feast of ‘Our Lady of Victory’ and his successor; Gregory XIII renamed it ‘Our Lady of the Holy Rosary.’

The Ottoman forces were bent on conquering the Mediterranean Island of Cyprus, which belonged to the Venetian Republic. In 1570 the Ottoman troops invaded Cyprus and on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of Our Lady, the City of Nicosia fell to the Ottoman scimitar. The Catholic fleet dispatched by the Pope and headed by Admiral Doria, withdrew when the Admiral learnt that a massacre followed the capitulation of Nicosia. The Pope was understandably alarmed by the news that Ottoman conquests advanced along the Mediterranean coast, and pleaded with the European monarchs, for an immediate response to repel the Ottoman onslaught. Similarly to Pope Urban II, Pope Saint Pius V urged the Catholic powers to unite into a Holy League and repel the menace. It was the time of the Renaissance and Protestant Reformation; many turned a deaf ear to the exhortations of the Pope, ignoring the needs of the Roman Church. Eventually, the Pontiff brought together the Holy League consisting of the Republics of Genoa, Lucca, Venice, the Dukes of Savoy, Parma, Ferrara, Urbino, the forces of King Philip II of Spain and Austria and the Military and Hospitaller Knights of Saint John and naturally the Papal Fleet. Don John of Austria, the twenty five-year-old son of Charles V and Philip’s half-brother was appointed Commander of the Catholic fleet. Don John received the Pope’s banner through Cardinal Granvalla and left Genoa for Naples on June 26, 1571. The Papal banner depicting the Blessed Virgin was lifted high on the masthead of John’s ship. This banner can today be viewed at the Cathedral of Santiago de Compostella in Spain. France refused to join the Holy League and was financing the Ottoman forces, this pathetic French political agenda was rightly deemed as being a great dishonor and betrayal of Christianity. France desired to weaken their long time enemy, the German-Austrian Kingdom.

The Pope in Rome urged the faithful to pray the Holy Rosary for a sure and rapid victory. His Holiness Pius V delivered his papal blessing saying: “Go forth in the name of Christ to combat His foes, you will be victorious.” The Christians forces consisted of 50,000 sailors and 31,000 soldiers aboard 208 galleys, while the Ottoman built a fleet consisting of 300 ships. Previous to the Christian departure, 80,000 men fasted for three days, confessed their sins and received Holy Communion. As the Holy League set sail, news reached the Pope that the City of Famagusta on Cyprus had fallen to the Ottoman Turk. All the confraternities of the Holy Rosary were asked to redouble their prayers, the convents and monasteries kept vigils of prayer before the Blessed Sacrament. It was said that Don John and the soldiers from Christendom, entered battle with drawn swords in one hand and their Rosary beads in the other. Jesting at the previous year’s failure by Admiral Doria, the Ottoman Commander was surprised that the Christians had finally decided to put a show of resistance. Ottoman forces retreated to the coast of Lepanto in the Gulf of Corinth and at dawn on October 7, the Catholic and Islamic fleets met at the entrance of the Gulf of Patras. The battle raged and the Ottoman held the upper hand. An indication of the outcome was sure in coming, for as the wind initially favored the Ottoman Fleet, it changed direction favoring the Catholics. What better representation of the Holy Spirit and the Blessed Virgin could have occurred through the change in wind direction? At Lepanto, a merciless bloody battle raged; Catholic soldiers climbed aboard Ottoman ships, which rammed Catholic vessels. Great carnage was everywhere, due to their heavy armor proud knights and soldiers sank into the depths of the sea, and hundreds of cannons pounded wooden vessels. Shouts, musket balls, arrows and splinters filled the air, hundreds of boats crashed into each other, the surface of the sea was littered with debris and floating bodies.

Before departing from the Genoese port, Don John of Austria was presented by Philip II of Spain, who in turn had received from the Archbishop of Mexico City, a picture of Our Lady of Guadeloupe painted in 1570 and touched to the original. The Image was placed in the chapel of the Admiral’s vessel and together with the Genoese Andrea Doria, an invocation for protection was previous to the expedition expressed before the Image of Our Lady. Throughout the battle when the situation was unfavorable for the Catholics, the Admiral knelt before the Image and pleaded for Our Lady’s intercession. This same Image is today kept enshrined in the Church of San Stefano in Aveto, Italy. Reliable historical sources state that at a certain critical point, Prince Mark Antonio Colonna, the Commander of the Papal fleet, received a direct instruction from the Blessed Virgin and attacked the galley of the Ottoman Commander Ali Pasha. Don John later reported that the battle on the galley of Ali Pasha, the great Ottoman flagship, raged for an hour. The Islamic soldiery twice repelled the attack upon the main mast. The Catholics prevailed and Ali Pasha was captured together with five hundred other soldiers. The Ottoman flags and standards were removed and the Cross-was hoisted upon the mainmast.

Upon the Spanish vessel ‘The Marquesa,’ there was amidst the soldiers, the writer Miguel de Cervantes. He was wounded in the chest and left hand, he later authored ‘Don Quixote’ and himself remembered the battle and his wounds to his left hand as occurring ‘for the greater glory of his right.’ Three galleys of the Order of Saint John held the far right and met in battle the corsair squadron of El Louck Ali, the viceroy of the Algiers. Although heavily outnumbered the Knights fought bravely. Such was the fear the Order of Saint John instilled in its enemy, that the son of the Count of Fuentes, Bernardino de Heredia and a Zaragozan Knight Jeroimo Ramires, who fought heroically and were both riddled with arrows, were not approached by their enemies before they were confirmed dead. When the Islamic fleet was defeated, El Louck Ali withdrew his corsair vessels and fled. Twenty thousand men of the Ottoman forces were killed or taken prisoner, while the Catholics had eight thousand casualties and twice as much injured. Out of three hundred Ottoman ships, two hundred were destroyed, and many others were captured, 15,000 Christian oarsmen were liberated.

At Lepanto, captured Ottoman Islamic POWs claimed of beholding a radiant Lady in the sky and admittedly, were terrified of her majestic and threatening countenance. The Turkish witnessed a Lady who gazed upon them so threateningly, that they could not gaze back at her and they rather retreated. The timing of Our Lady’s apparition coincided with the turning of events (of the wind) in favor of the Catholic forces. The Catholic Fleet did not behold the Blessed Virgin, however many felt a heavenly assistance. Other Ottoman POWs swore that they saw Jesus Christ, Saint Peter, Saint Paul, and an army of angels with swords fighting against the Ottoman navy. The angels blinded the Turkish sailors with the smoke from the ships’ cannons. How the Muslim sailors came to recognize the Christian saints and Jesus Christ is a mystery, however following characteristic descriptions of the saints, the interrogators might have interpreted the visions. Otherwise the Jihadists might have been Divinely enlightened to recognize against whom they were warring. The numerous witnesses of the apparitions disprove the allegation that these alleged visions, were a fabrication on the part of the Christians. Similar visions of Our Lady, including her glorious threatening holy countenance, her unbearable apparition and the compulsive mysterious force which obliged her enemies to gaze submissively to the ground, was reported in different ages, during far and removed battles, by diverse cultures who essentially opposed a genuine Catholic army which invoked her assistance.

Shamefully, during this moment of victory, the differences and bickering between the Catholic forces were not surmounted. Mark Antonio Colonna, the Commander of the Papal fleet, would later say: “Only by a miracle and the great goodness of God was it possible for us to fight such a battle. But it is just as great a miracle that the prevailing greed and covetousness have not flung us one against the other in a second battle.”(1) It should be noted that disagreement between allied leaders could lead to an obvious disastrous outcome. The disagreement between Mustapha Pasha and Piali Pasha, during the siege on Malta in 1565, led to serious tactical mistakes on the part of the Ottoman force. On the other hand the Blessed Virgin led the bickering Catholics during the battle of Lepanto to victory. Mark Antonio Colonna’s comments safely show that a victory was not brought about by the strength of the Catholics, but by the direct will of God through the intercession of Our Lady and the effectiveness of the faithful’s prayers, who assiduously prayed the fifteen mysteries of the most Holy Rosary. Historians remember the Naval Battle at Lepanto, as the last battle of the oared galley, it surely indicated the proximity of the end of an age dominated by the Ottoman Empire. The Christians which powered the Ottoman fleet were liberated, at least the ones who survived.

Before the news confirming the Catholic victory arrived in Rome, the Pope beheld in vision, the outcome of the Battle at Lepanto. At dawn on October 7, 1571, Pope Pius V was accompanied by the faithful who were praying the Rosary in the Basilica of Santa Maria Maggiore, before the Image of the Blessed Virgin. Differing historical sources state that, while the Battle at Lepanto was in full swing, His Holiness the Pope was attending a meeting on finances. When victory was achieved the Pope Saint Pius V stood up from the important Church meeting and headed towards the window, whilst shedding copious tears and thanking God he exclaimed, “The Catholic fleet is victorious!” Yet other historical sources state, that the Pope stood up from the meeting and went to the window to pray the Rosary and whilst praying received the revelation that the Catholic fleet won the battle. On returning to the table he said: “It is not time to talk about business; our great task at present is to thank God for the victory He has just given the Catholic Armada.”(2) The records show that at the same time the Pontiff made the statement, the Ottoman fleet was defeated. A few days later a courier, who was delayed by storms at sea, arrived in Rome with the news of the victory at Lepanto. To thank the Blessed Virgin, Rosary processions were held and Pope Pius V added the litany to the Holy Rosary. In 1712 Pope Pius V was canonized.

Following the confirmation of the outcome, Saint Pius repeated the prayer of the Prophet Simeon: “Now thou dost dismiss thy servant in peace, O Lord, according to Thy Word, because my eyes have seen thy salvation.” That is, “that special thing for which I was born, the victory I had expected for Thy glory, has taken place. With this, my mission is fulfilled. Now Thou can take my soul for I have nothing else to do on this earth.”(3) His Holiness Pope Saint Pius V declared October 7, a commemorative day for the Rosary victory at Lepanto and a Feast in gratitude for the protection offered by the Blessed Virgin Mary. In 1572, Pope Pius V introduced the ‘Festem BMV de Victoria’ or the Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mother of Victory. In 1573, Pope Gregory XII established the ‘Feast of the most Holy Rosary,’ to be celebrated on the first Sunday of October at all churches having an altar dedicated to the Holy Rosary. Clemens XI extended the Feast to the whole Church. Under Pius X the Feast was scheduled for October 7, it changed name in 1960 and became ‘Feast of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the Rosary.’ This appellation was changed in 1969 to ‘Our Lady of the Rosary’ and it is now a mandatory memorial. Following Lepanto, in Mexico, the Statue of Guadeloupe adopted the third title of ‘Our Lady of the Rosary.’ The Venetian Senators placed in their meeting chamber, a panel with the words, “Non virtus, non arma, non duces, sed Maria Rosari, victores nos fecit,” or “It was not courage, not arms, not leaders, but Mary of the Rosary that made us victors.” In our modern day, at the Royal Monastery of Santa Maria de Guadeloupe in Spain, a large warship lantern captured from the Turkish ships at Lepanto can be seen. In Rome the ceiling of Santa Maria in Aracoeli, is decorated with gold taken from the Ottoman galleys. A large Turkish flag from Lepanto is kept as a trophy in the Doges Palace in Venice, Italy. In Rome at Santa Maria Maggiore Basilica, there was kept yet another flag close to the tomb of Pope Saint Pius V. This flag was removed and returned to Turkey in 1965, a token and a friendly gesture towards the Turkish Nation. The gesture was made in hope that Turkey might one day in the future gaze upon Our Lady, the Blessed Virgin as its spiritual mother, for she is the Koran’s ‘Virgin ever Virgin.’

1 Comment »

  1. Readers may be interested also in the following book that I recently reviewed under the title “When the Spirits Collided: Islam and Christianity in the Course of Western Civilization” which can be seen at

    and other related articles which can be seen in my blog:

    Comment by dario fernandez-morera — September 4, 2012 @ 11:26 pm | Reply

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