The Catholic Southern Front

Chapter 9/31 – ‘Veni, vidi, Deus vicit’ in Vienna

The Capuchin Franciscan monk, Father Mark D’Aviano, hailed from the Italian land of Friuli, a land attacked numerous times by Ottoman armies. The Capuchin monk urged the Viennese Catholics to fast and do much penance. Father Mark informed Emperor Leopold I, that: “God is armed with scourges, because He has been provoked by our sins. It is fitting to appease Him by humiliations, repentance, and self-denial; and when our hearts have turned back to God, and when, in reparation for the public offenses that are committed against Him, we shall have rendered to Him the public homage which is due, I am certain that God, though He send affliction, will not will our desolation. Vienna, Vienna, your love of lax living has prepared you a grave and imminent chastisement: Convert, and consider well what you are doing, O wretched Vienna.”(1) Father Mark’s exhortations persuaded the Viennese, who performed much public penance. In 1683, a battle took place between the invading Ottoman forces and Vienna, subsequently following the Battle of Vienna: the Ottoman Empire attacked Hungary. Father Mark exhorted the Catholic armies; “Faith must conquer not arms!”(2)

Father Mark invested much of his energy in urging the Catholic leaders to form a Holy League and defend their Christian territory from the enemy. To the Austrian Emperor he said: “God desires war and not peace. Let us first deliver the Catholic territories, then we can negotiate.”(3) Similarly as Saint Bernard of Clairvaux preached before the Second Crusade, Father Mark complemented his exhortations with miracles and signs from God. The Ottoman forces regarded the cleric as a ‘powerful magician,’ and repeatedly inquired regarding the mysterious ‘lady in white’ who appeared beside Father Mark on the ramparts of the Viennese fortifications. The ‘lady in white,’ evidently referring to the Blessed Mother, was assisting the Christians as ever before in an hour of darkness. On November 17, 1682, Pope Innocent XI crowned with a golden crown and precious gemstones the Image of the ‘Mother of Good Counsel,’ in Gennazzano Italy. The Pontiff implored Our Lady to bring the Catholic princes together against the common Ottoman enemy. Following the crowning, differences between the Catholic factions were solved. A treaty between the Catholic leaders, (Austria-Vienna and Poland-Krakow) was confirmed, this ensured mutual protection if either region were to be menaced by enemy forces.

Enmity between the Austrian and Ottoman powers had lasted one hundred and fifty years; the Sultan was resolved to put a definite end to the Austrian menace. The Ottoman Sultan ordered all military preparations possible and left none of his attendants or wives behind, for on his campaign against the West, he was accompanied by his entire harem. In their wake, the Ottoman power left a trail of destruction, desecrated churches and kidnapped several Christian children. In the city of Krakow, Poland, in the Church dedicated to Corpus Christi, a votive painting hangs close to the side entrance. It depicts squadrons of soldiers and citizens carrying in procession an Icon of Our Lady (probably a copy of the Icon of Czestochowa), through the Krakowian streets. In the 1680s, the Krakowians implored Our Lady’s protection from the Turks as they proceeded towards Vienna. On arriving in Vienna the Sultan halted and sent the Vizier Kara Mustafa with the green banner of the prophet Mohammed to the Viennese Palace. The Vizier wore the Sultan’s green cord around his neck, this signified that Kara Mustafa would either conquer Vienna or strangle himself. In the meantime the Ottoman army massacred soldiers and civilians sparing none. The situation was grave indeed and the Imperial court left Vienna for Passau. The heavily besieged Viennese City was hard pressed to the extent that all its inhabitants, including the domestics of the Imperial Court, were summoned for battle. The Christian Alliance was not relinquishing Vienna easily. Armies assembled in Germany and Poland; John George Elector of Saxony, Prince Charles the Duke of Lorraine, General Eugene of Savoy of Austria and King Jan Sobieski of Poland were the leading princes of the Alliance. In order to save the Alliance from disintegration, due to the usual Christian discord and rivalry, Emperor Leopold sent Pope Innocent’s representative, Father Mark D’Aviano, to the leaders. Father Mark did his utmost and pleaded with the Catholic leaders. The monk’s battle plan was straight forward, he invited the leaders and their respective armies, to repent of their sins and offences against God, beg for His mercy and subsequently attack the enemy. Father Mark prophesied that their enemy would be routed and the Alliance would claim all Ottoman baggage as spoils of war.

King Jan Casimir Sobieski had already defeated the Ottoman Turks before. In 1673, at Chocim (in Ukraine) the King successfully defeated a 20,000 Ottoman force. Previous to his coronation he was victorious at Trembowla, following the coronation, not withstanding the fact that his men were outnumbered ten to one, he was again successful at Zurawno. Much of the territory lost in Ukraine was regained. King Sobieski honored the Treaty sealed with the Austrians and marched for Vienna, leaving his country undefended. Previous to his departure, he warned the Hungarian leader Imre Thokoly, an Ottoman subordinate, not to take advantage of the situation and harass Poland, as he would surely avenge such an act. In August together with his army, the Polish King departed from Warsaw marching behind the banner of the Blessed Virgin. At the Sanctuary of Our Lady of Czestochowa, the Poles implored the Virgin’s help and blessing. Whilst marching towards Vienna, Sobieski’s men prayed the Holy Rosary, the Austrians also prayed Our Lady’s Rosary. Three centuries later, His Holiness Pope Pius XII wrote to the Polish bishops recalling the supplications King Jan Sobieski made to Our Lady at the sanctuary on the ‘Bright Hill’ or ‘Clear Mountain’ of Jasna Gora: “To the same Heavenly Queen, on Clear Mountain, the illustrious John Sobieski, whose eminent valor freed Catholicism from the attacks of its old enemies, confided himself.”(4)

On September 8, the Feast day commemorating of Our Lady’s Nativity; the leaders prepared for battle by receiving the Catholic Sacraments. King Jan advised his army: “I want two words on your lips as you enter this battle, Jesus and Mary.” Many fought under the protective invocation of the Blessed Virgin, amongst them Eugene of Savoy. Previous to battle, on September 12, 1683, Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, Father Mark celebrated Holy Mass and publicly preached invoking God’s aid and blessed the armies. The Ottoman enemy heavily outnumbered the Christian Alliance, which consisted of 40,000 Austrian and German troops and 30,000 Polish and Lithuanian troops. The enemy camp consisted of 300,000 Turks. As a defensive measure the Ottoman enemy employed the strategy of digging long trenches towards the Viennese City, the trenches also served to destabilize the fortified walls. A steady flow of food supplies to the city was a hard matter to maintain and the population suffered from the lack of it. The Viennese cavalry sacrificed their horses for food. The siege proceeded and the Vizier ordered the detonation of the mines placed by his sappers beneath the Viennese walls, however the enemy forces were not well prepared against Jan Sobieski’s army of hussars (feathered cavalry). On September 12, the Austrian army attacked the Ottoman left flank, while the Germans tackled the center. The Vizier Kara Mustafa intending to end the defenders in one blow, launched his counter-attack with the greater part of his men. The Poles formed the right flank, after a few hours of engagement; Sobieski conquered the high ground on the right. Father Mark galloped on steed along the army front, encouraging the Christian defenders to have faith in God. Crucifix in hand, he fearlessly called against the charging enemy: “Behold the cross of the Lord! Begone, enemy troops.”(5) At a certain critical moment a white dove appeared above Father Mark and hovered around his shoulders, for the Catholics this signified a sure sign of impending victory. Four cavalry groups (20,000 strong) representing the Catholic Alliance, charged under the command of Jan Sobieski. The initial retreat of the cavalry forces was followed by a more daring assault upon the enemy and the Ottoman camp. The Viennese garrison joined the armies and three hours later the Catholics won the battle; the enemy retreated to the south and the east.

Following the Islamic defeat, the enemy fled abandoning a rich booty in their camps. Six hundred Christian children destined for the slave markets, were liberated and ten thousand sacks of coffee were discovered in the camp. The Viennese mixed milk with this coffee and named the drink in honor of the Capuchin monk, thus the coffee drink ‘cappuccino.’ Cakes were baked shaped in half-circled moons and were called ‘cornetti.’ For the ensuing eighteen years, Father Mark encouraged war against the invading Ottoman forces. In these years the Ottoman Empire lost vast territories, and the major conflicts ended at the Treaty of Karlowitz. In commemoration of the help and intercession of Our Lady, the Sobieski family donated a Scapular of the ‘Mother of God of Blue Montaine’ (Jasna Gora) to the Wawel Museum in Krakow, Poland. The scapular can today be viewed at the Wawel Museum in Krakow, together with a jewel-encrusted sword and hat, donated by the Catholic Pontiff to King Jan Sobieski. Sobieski’s personal Holy Rosary adorned with colorful blue beads can be viewed at the Treasury of the Shrine of Our Lady of Chestochowa in Poland. In the Viennese Cathedral of Stefan’s Dom, the Te Deum was sung and the Feast of Mary was celebrated on September 12, in commemoration for the grandiose and supernatural victory at Vienna.

Previous to the siege of Vienna, Pope Innocent had ordered the monasteries and convents of Rome to recite the Holy Rosary for the special intention of victory. In Vienna itself many were praying, especially before the miraculous ‘Image of Our Lady Help of Christians’ at the Capuchin Church, which following Jan Sobieski’s victory, was particularly venerated. Trophies of war included; a large Turkish tent, which is still present today at the Wawel museum in Krakow, Poland. Other trophies can be seen at the Doges Palace in Venice, Italy and in Rome’s Santa Maria Maggiore (Mary Major) BasilicaOn defeating the enemy King Sobieski sent the ‘Standard of the Prophet’ to Pope Innocent XI, along with a letter bearing the good news of victory with the words, “Veni, vidi, Deus vicit –I came, I saw, God conquered” and “I came, I saw, but Jesus and Mary conquered.”(6) The Viennese honored Jan Sobieski by dedicating a church in Vienna to his honor and victory. Although it was surely in Sobieski’s interest to safeguard the South West from the Ottoman clutches, in those days it must have been indeed, an incredible matter for a monarch to leave his own country undefended and depart in defense of the Austro-Germanic neighbour.

As had occurred at the victory of Lepanto, the invocation of the Holy Name of Mary and the recitation of the Holy Rosary, repeating her salutation, granted a most splendid victory at Vienna. In 1513, Pope Julius II established the Feast of the ‘Holy Name of Mary’ to be celebrated on September 15, by Papal indult at the diocese of Cuenta in Spain. The Feast was assigned with a proper office. When Pope Saint Pius reformed the Breviary, the Feast was removed, only to be reinstituted by Pope Sixtus V to September 17. In 1622, the Feast was celebrated in the Archdiocese of Toledo and in 1671 celebrated throughout Spain and Naples. Following the victory at Vienna, Pope Innocent XI would at this point extend the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary, to the Universal Church. In 1914, Pope Saint Pius X re-affirmed the Feast. Nonetheless, Pope Paul VI ecumenically removed the Feast of the Holy Name of Mary of September 12 from the Catholic calendar and returned the green banner of Mohammed back to the Turks as a sign of future peace.

In 1935, the Austrian Army had their military colors represented by the colors of Our Lady. The Austrian ceremonial ‘Ardebataillon’ carried the ‘Fahne,’ which bears the depiction of the Blessed Virgin Mary standing on a crescent, her head surrounded by twelve stars and a gold halo. The Infantry Regiments carried the color white, which represented the Colonel’s Color or ‘Leibfahne’ and an image of the presentation of the Virgin Mary on the obverse, the two headed eagle of the House of Hapsburg on the reverse. Evidently such depictions represented the highest ideals of the Austrian Army.

 

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