The Battle of Lepanto

One of the most important sea battles in world history was fought on October 7th, 1571. From the East sailed a great superpower, the Muslim Ottoman Empire, intent on extending their territories across the Mediterranean. From the West responded an alliance of Christian states named the Holy League. These two great armadas, totaling at least 484 row-powered vessels and around 150,000 men, clashed off the southwestern coast of Greece.

pope-st-pius-v-1504-1572The Holy League was called and assembled through the leadership of Pope St. Pius V, who clearly perceived the Turkish threat. Pope Pius  rallied not only material might but also spiritual strength to oppose the aggressors, ordering the Rome’s churches to remain open day and night for prayer and urging the faithful to ask the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the recitation of the Rosary.

In the afternoon of October 7th, Pope Pius was walking about his room, being briefed on various matters by his treasurer, Msgr. Busotti de Bibiana. The pope suddenly stopped in the middle of the room and, making a sign for Busotti to be silent, put out his head as one listening. He then threw open the window and leaned out, in the same silent and listening posture. On seeing the pope’s face suddenly transfigured, his tearful blue eyes turned up to heaven with an ineffable expression, and his raised,  joined, and trembling hands, Busotti’s hair stood on end as he realized that something supernatural was occurring. The pope thus remained for more than three minutes, and then said to Busotti with a joyful, radiant face, “This is not the time for business. Let us return thanks to God for victory over the Turks.” The pope withdrew stumbling into his chapel with beautiful lights coming from his forehead.

The treasurer hastened to report what had happened to the Vatican Cardinals and bishops, and these ordered that a record should be made at once, noting all the circumstances of time and place, and that it should be sealed and deposited at a notary’s office. (This account, affirmed by Busotti under oath, would be later presented as part of Pius V’s canonization process.) Weeks later, the news finally reached Rome by human means making known the victory at Lepanto. Though the numbers and winds had favored the Turks the morning of the conflict, first-hand witnesses write that the winds shifted to the Christians forces’ favor at the hour of battle.

St. Pope Pius V, recognizing and celebrating this providential deliverance, added a new feast day to the Roman Liturgical Calendar. October 7th was made the Feast of Our Lady of Victory. Pope Pius’ successor, Gregory XIII (after whom our Gregorian Calendar is named) would change the name of this day to the Feast of the Holy Rosary, as it is known and celebrated in the Church today.

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