OCTOBER 7TH – MORE OF THE STORY
Here’s a good, old-fashioned, detailed, instructive picture of the Battle of Lepanto which was won by the Christians in Europe on this date. It was one of those life-changing battles for all Europeans and their “offspring” (us). You would not be thinking and acting as you do today if this battle had been lost.
I had known about this battle since I entered the Church many years ago now, and I’ve written about it here before, but all I had read was the modern “light” versions of the incident, with an emphasis on the lovely miraculous aspect of this story. Now I’m learning more.
Today’s feast is called “Our Lady of the Rosary” and certainly the prayers of the hopeful-faithful “availed much” and certainly participants in this great battle witnessed a miracle. But there’s more, more serious and urgent reasons why we should know “more.”
First, this is one of the last great battles in a greater war with many important battles that had been lost and just about lost by the European Christians. And who were they fighting?
This picture contains a symbol of the enemy:
She is called te coatlaxopeuh. It’s an Aztec title meaning She Who Crushes the Head of The Stone Serpent” which is Quetzalcoatl, of course, whose symbol, one of them, was a crescent. She’s standing on the crescent, showing that she has conquered it and all it stands for. The cruel and vicious Aztec culture was defeated in Mexico.
The Europeans who first saw this image of The Virgin Mary presented (miraculously) on the tilma of Juan Diego in Mexico in 1531 pronounced the name as best they could, “te quatlasupe,” and discovered they were saying, like, “Guadalupe” – a river in their native country of Spain!
This image is Our Lady of Guadalupe, and it was carried by a Spanish naval commander into the Battle of Lepanto.
Why this image? Because that crescent also happens to be the main symbol of the enemy that had been attacking year after year, decade after decade – and it was understood that what was happening in these Greek isles in 1571 was going to be a kind of Last Stand – do or die – they had to stop the Moslems or be overrun by them.
The Christians gathered together a fleet as best they could ( a long bitter story of failing to rally against the enemy) and sailed to the Greek islands which the Moslems were conquering one by one. When the fleet arrived they found horrific scenes of villages filled with dead, mutilated bodies, people that had been tortured and raped and left where they had fallen, slaughtered animals, destruction and devastation everywhere they looked.
Then the two armies met. The Moslems arranged their ships in the shape of a crescent; the Christian fleet divided itself into three parts to effect a well thought-out strategy against the highly skilled Moslem warriors and sailors.
The naval battle itself is a thrilling example of skillful maneuvering of battleships of the day. Christian slaves provided the power to move the Moslem galleons as both sides fought with arquebuses, crossbows, spears, and arrows. Tens of thousands of soldiers were carried by tens of thousands of the sailors who knew how to work the ships into advantageous positions.
Ships were rammed, groups of ships were surrounded and cut off and then boarded, close hand-to-hand fighting occurred everywhere. Cannons were fired. Ships were sunk. There are so many stories of individual acts of bravery, but of hideous wounds as well, and of fierce determination to die fighting the enemy.
At last, the winds suddenly and unexpectedly turned direction, and the Moslem ships were unable to maneuver as they needed to. The Christians won.
The leader of the Christian world, the Pope, Pope Pius v, standing at the hub of information and communication, had seen the enemy pushing successfully into the Christian world. He had seen the clueless, disorganized European leaders. And he could see that only Christian prayer could tip the scales towards victory, finally, for the Christians.
He ordered the rosary to be said everywhere, for victory. Many heeded his call. Or enough did, at any rate.
There were months of gathering fighters, preparation, sailing towards Lepanto, and then the battle. No one really knew what was happening during all that time. On October 7th, 1571, the pope was in a business meeting with other men, when he got up suddenly, walked over to a window, and then stated that the battle has been won, we must give thanks to God.
Many days later, confirmation of the victory came. The earnest prayers of the rosary had carried the urgent plea of the people to the heavens. God had seen the sincerity of the faith of His people. And the pope designated this day to honor the prayers of the rosary – and to honor Our Lady who ushers us through the events of the gospel which make up the mysteries of the rosary.
Today, it is just as urgent that we know who is trying to defeat us. Who has declared themselves an enemy of Christianity? Who still calls us “crusaders”?
It’s also just as urgent that we are agreed together about the necessity to resist those who would try to overcome us, or to overtake our culture. And the word “battle” signifies hard work, courage, sacrifice, and focused determination to win.
And it’s urgent to realize that God is still involved, caring, ready and able to stand by us and to fortify us when the battle comes. Let’s hope this remains a spiritual battle, fought with our prayers, and we never have to pick up our lances and arquebuses!
It’s October 7th, all right, 2016.