Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, wherein we Catholics celebrate the great naval victory of Don Juan of Austria over the Turk at Lepanto on October 7, 1571.
What Happened at the Battle of Lepanto?
Don Juan and the Holy League's forces were massively outnumbered by the Turkish fleet under Sufi Ali Pasha who expected to crush the last opposition of Christendom before him, in route to conquering Europe.
The Turk assembled his fleet in the shape of a crescent. Don Juan, his in the shape of the Cross. This battle, then, would see the two very symbols of Christendom and Islam squaring off in the warm waters of the Mediterranean. While Ali Pasha whipped his Christian slaves, who powered his galleys, forward into the fray, Catholic Europe fell on its knees, Rosaries in hand.
When the battle concluded, Pope Pius V, nearly a thousand miles away in Rome, looked up from his prayer to declare, "we've been victorious." He was right. The Turks were destroyed. The Christian slaves set free. Europe would remain free from the tyranny of the crescent... at least for now...
Is this a Holy Day of Obligation?
No, but it's never a bad idea to go to Mass. If you do, make sure to offer a special prayer to Mary, thanking her for the protection of our Christian ancestors against the forces of the Ottoman Empire.
How Can I Celebrate this Feast Day?
To commemorate this great feast day - aside from praying your Rosary - read GK Chesterton's poem, The Battle of Lepanto, here's a taste (read the whole thing here or better, here - with explanatory notes).
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,If poetry isn't your thing (che peccata!), you can pick up a copy of Louis de Wohl's The Last Crusader for a gripping historical novel recounting one of the most important naval battles in history.
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that sweat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Vivat Hispania! Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
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