Category Archives: Islam

Oct 7 – The Battle of Lepanto


-Battle of Lepanto, by Lucas Valdez (1661-1725), Iglesia de Santa Maria Magdalena, Seville, Spain, please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Christopher Check

Americans know that in 1492 Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” but how many know that in the same year the heroic Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moors in Grenada? Americans would also probably recognize 1588 as the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Francis Drake and the rest of Queen Elizabeth’s pirates. It was a tragedy for the Catholic kingdom of Spain and a triumph for the Protestant British Empire, and the defeat determined the kind of history that would one day be taught in American schools: Protestant British history.

As a result, 1571, the year of the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval contest in human history, is not well known to Americans. October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

That this military triumph is also a Marian feast underscores our image of the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the Canticle of Canticles: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” In October of 1564, the Viziers of the Divan of the Ottoman Empire assembled to urge their sultan to prepare for war with Malta. “Many more difficult victories have fallen to your scimitar than the capture of a handful of men on a tiny little island that is not well fortified,” they told him. Their words were flattering but true. During the five-decade reign of Soleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire grew to its fullest glory, encompassing the Caucuses, the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Soleiman had conquered Aden, Algiers, Baghdad, Belgrade, Budapest, Rhodes, and Temesvar. His war galleys terrorized not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf as well. His one defeat was at the gates of Vienna in 1529.

The Defense of Malta

Malta was an infertile, dusty rock with so few natural springs that the Maltese had to collect rainwater in large clay urns. The island could sustain only the smallest population. Yet this little island guarded the Mediterranean passage from the Islamic East to the Christian West.

From its excellent natural harbors, the galleys of the Knights of Saint John could sail forth and disrupt any Turkish assault on Italy. They could also board and seize Turkish merchantmen carrying goods from France or Venice to be hawked in the markets of Constantinople. The ladies of Soleiman’s harem, who accumulated great wealth speculating in glass and other Venetian luxuries, nagged the sultan to take Malta.

Soleiman had bigger goals than pleasing these matrons, and he knew that, in Turkish possession, the harbors of Malta would afford him a base from which to continue his raids on the coast of Italy. With the greater control of the sea that it would afford him, he would be able to bring Venice to heel. An invasion of Sicily would be possible. Soleiman’s greatest dream, however, the dream of all Turks, the dream his soldiers toasted before setting off on every campaign, was the conquest of Rome. There the Turks could transform Michelangelo’s St. Peter’s, then under construction, into a mosque, just as they had Constantinople’s Hagia Sophia more than a century before.

Although the sultan had led his army on twelve major campaigns, this time his age would keep him home. The Turks sailed for Malta in the spring of 1565, and on May 18, their fleet was spotted offshore. That night, Jean de la Valette, the seventy-one-year-old Grand Master of the Knights of Saint John, led his warriors into their chapel where they confessed and then assisted at the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass.

“A formidable army composed of audacious barbarians is descending on this island,” he told them. “These persons, my brothers, are the enemies of Jesus Christ. Today it is a question of the defense of our Faith. Are the Gospels to be superseded by the Koran? God on this occasion demands of us our lives, already vowed to His service. Happy will be those who first consummate this sacrifice.”

Many of Valette’s 700 knights and their men-at-arms did just that. While Europe stood idly by, expecting the fortress to fall, the knights held their island against an Ottoman army of 40,000, including 6500 of the sultan’s elite Janissaries. Three-quarters of the Turkish army were killed over the four-month siege, before the Ottoman survivors turned and straggled back to Constantinople.

Slaughter in Szigetvar

Soleiman was outraged. “I see that it is only in my own hand that my sword is invincible!” exploded the sultan, and by May of the following year he was leading an army of 300,000 men across the plains of Hungary, bound for Vienna.

When the Hungarian Count of Szigetvar, a fortress city on the eastern frontier of the Holy Roman Empire, led a successful raid on the Ottoman supply trains, Soleiman wheeled his massive army and swore to wipe the city off the map. Turkish engineers prepared flotillas and bridges to span the Drava and Danube rivers to lay siege to Szigetvar. To greet the sultan and to inspire his men, who were outnumbered fifty to one, Count Miklos Zrinyi raised a large crucifix over his battlements and fired his cannons in defiance. But Zrinyi knew that in a Hungary infested with Protestantism, hope of relief was even fainter than any the Knights of Malta had entertained the previous year.

For nearly a month, wave after wave of Turkish infantry were thrown back from the walls. Soleiman offered Zrinyi rule of all Croatia if he would yield his city, but he answered, “No one shall point his finger on my children in contempt.”

When the breaches made by the Turkish artillery were too large to defend, the Catholic count assembled his last 600 men. “With this sword” he shouted as he held the bejeweled weapon aloft, “I earned my first honor and glory. I want to appear with it once more before the eternal throne to hear my judgment.” Charging out of the remains of their stronghold, the courageous band was swallowed by a sea of Turks. To the last man the Hungarian knights died defending the Christian West. The Turks, furious at the losses their army had suffered, consoled themselves according to their grisly custom: they slaughtered every Christian civilian who had survived the siege.

Soleiman the Magnificent did not live to witness the massacre. He had died of dysentery four days earlier. Had he survived, however, this victory would have given him no comfort. The capture of Szigetvar was Pyrrhic. The Ottoman army had exhausted itself and was in no condition to carry on the campaign. Though they all died, Count Zrinyi and his heroic band were the true victors.

Back in Constantinople, Soleiman’s son ascended the throne by the usual Ottoman method: a complex harem intrigue designed to eradicate his worthier brothers. Unlike every previous sultan, Selim II, nicknamed “the Sot,” had little interest in warfare. His enthusiasms were for wine, his extraordinarily deviant sexual appetite, wine, poetry, and wine. Nevertheless, he sensed that without a decisive victory, the mighty empire his father had left him would be eclipsed.

The Attack on Cyprus

Selim II invaded Cyprus, the source of his favorite vintage. Half the population were Greek Orthodox serfs laboring under the exacting rule of their Venetian Catholic masters, and they offered little resistance. The Venetian senate was half-hearted about fighting for the island; upon receiving word of the invasion, senate members voted by the very small margin of 220 to 199 to defend it.

The Turks rolled through Cyprus, and after a forty-six day siege, the capital city of Nicosia fell on September 9, 1570. The 500 Venetians in the garrison surrendered on terms, but once the city gates were opened, the Turks rushed in and slaughtered them. Then they set on the civilian population, massacring twenty thousand people, “some in such bizarre ways that those merely put to the sword were lucky.” Every house was plundered. To protect their daughters from rape, mothers stabbed them and then themselves, or threw themselves from the rooftops. Still, “[t]wo thousand of the prettier boys and girls were gathered and shipped off as sexual provender for the slave markets in Constantinople.”

Then God intervened and sent one of history’s greatest popes, St. Pius V, who declared, “I am taking up arms against the Turks, but the only thing that can help me is the prayers of priests of pure life.” Michael Ghislieri, an aged Dominican priest when he ascended the Chair of Peter, faced two foes: Protestantism and Islam. He was up to the task. He had served as Grand Inquisitor, and the austerity of his private mortifications was a contrast to the lifestyles of his Renaissance predecessors. During his six-year reign, he promulgated the Council of Trent, published the works of Thomas Aquinas, issued the Roman Catechism and a new missal and breviary, created twenty-one cardinals, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, and, aided by St. Charles Borromeo, led the reform of a soft and degenerate clergy and episcopacy.

The Holy League

In a papacy of great achievements, the greatest came on March 7, 1571, on the feast of his fellow Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas. At the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, Pope Pius formed the Holy League. Genoa, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Spain put aside their jealousies and pledged to assemble a fleet capable of confronting the sultan’s war galleys before the east coast of Italy became the next front in the war between the Christianity and Islam.

The day was not a total triumph, though. Venice refused to join. Though at war with the Turks over Cyprus, the Venetians never failed to consider their economy. They might well lose Cyprus, but a fast peace afterward would lead to the resumption of normal trade relations with the Turks. Moreover, the loss of the Venetian fleet in an all-out battle with the sultan’s galleys would be a disaster for a state so dependent on seaborne commerce. Walking back across the Tiber, the old monk wept for the future of Christendom. He knew that without the galleys of Venice, there was no hope of a fleet strong enough to face the Turks.

The rest of Europe ignored Pius’s call for a new crusade. In fact, the Queen of England, Elizabeth I, through her spymaster, Sir Francis Walsingham, actively enlisted the aid of the Turks in her wars against Spain. France had openly traded with the Turks for years and as recently as 1569 had drawn up an extensive commercial treaty with them. For years the French had allowed Turkish ships to harbor in Toulon, and the oars that rowed Turkish galleys came from Marseilles. The cannons that brought down the walls of Szigetvar were of French design. With Venice at war with Constantinople, markets once filled by Venetian goods were open to France. Redeeming France from utter disgrace were the Knights of Saint John of Malta, who sent their galleys to join the Holy League, eager to do battle with Islam.

As the Pope prayed for Venice to answer a higher call, a new breed of fiery priests led by stirring preachers like St. Francisco Borgia, superior general of the Jesuits, inflamed the hearts of Christian Europeans throughout the Mediterranean with their sermons against Islam. Enough Venetians must have been listening, because on May 25 Venice at last joined the Holy League. By fits and starts, with hesitation and quarreling on the part of a few of the principal players, the fleet of the Holy League was forming.

The man chosen by Pius V to serve as Captain General of the Holy League did not falter: Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of the late Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and half-brother of Philip II, King of Spain. The young commander had distinguished himself in combat against Barbary corsairs and in the Morisco rebellion in Spain, a campaign in which he demonstrated his capacity for swift violence when the threat called for it and restraint when charity demanded it.

He was a great horseman, a great swordsman, and a great dancer. With charm, wit, and good looks in abundance, he was popular among the ladies of court. Since childhood he had cultivated a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He spoke Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish, and kept a pet marmoset and a lion cub that slept at the foot of his bed. He was twenty-four years old.

Taking the young warrior by the shoulders, Pius V looked Don John of Austria in the eye and declared, “The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”

The Death of Bragadino

In late summer of 1571, as Don John was making his way to the harbor at Messina to take command of his fleet, the situation on Cyprus was growing more desperate. The Venetian colonists had claimed the lives of some 50,000 Turks with their intrepid defense of Famagusta, but when their gunpowder and supplies were exhausted, when they had eaten their last horse, their shrewd governor, Marcantonio Bragadino, sent a message to the Turkish commander, Lala Mustafa, asking for terms. The Turks agreed to give the remaining Venetian soldiers passage to Crete on fourteen Turkish galleys in exchange for the surrender of the city. The Greek Cypriots would be allowed to retain their property and their religion.

On August 4, 1571, Bragadino, with a small entourage including several young pages, met with Mustafa and his advisors in the Turkish general’s tent. Mustafa lecherously demanded Bragadino’s page, Antonio Quirini, as a hostage for the fourteen galleys. When Bragadino calmly refused, he and his men were pushed out of the tent by Mustafa’s guards. Bragadino was bound and forced to watch as his attendants were hacked to pieces. The pages were led off in chains. The Turks thrice thrust the Venetian governor’s neck on the executioner’s block and thrice lifted it off. Instead of his head, they cut off his nose and ears. To prevent his bleeding to death, they cauterized the wounds with hot irons.

The Venetian soldiers of the garrison, unaware that Mustafa had broken the terms of the surrender, began their march down to the galleys, expecting passage to Crete. Once aboard, the Venetians were set upon by Turkish soldiers, who stripped them of their clothes and chained them to the oars. From their benches they witnessed some of the horrifying ordeal to which the Turks now subjected Bragadino.

First the Turks fitted the governor with a harness and bridle and led him around the Turkish camp on his hands and knees. Ass panniers filled with dung were slung across his back. Each time he passed Lala Mustafa’s tent he was forced to kiss the ground. Then he was strung up in chains, hoisted over a galley spar, and left to hang for a time. Finally, the courageous governor was dragged into the city square and lashed to the pillory, where the Turks flayed him alive. Witnesses said they heard him whispering a Latin prayer. He died “when the executioner’s knife reached the height of his navel.” The diabolical orgy did not end there. Mustafa had the governor’s skin stuffed, hoisted it up the mast of his galley, and joined the Ottoman fleet headed west.

Don John Takes Command

As Bragadino was losing his life to the Turkish monsters, Don John was inspecting his ships. Of the 206 galleys and 76 smaller boats that constituted the Holy League fleet, more than half came from Venice. The next largest contingent came from Spain, and included galleys from Sicily, Naples, Portugal, and Genoa, the latter owned by the Genovese condottiere admiral, Gianandrea Doria. Not only was Doria renting his services and the use of his ships to Philip at costs thirty percent higher than Philip paid to run his own galleys, he was lending the money to the Spanish king at fourteen percent! The balance of the galleys came from the Holy See.

Don John took charge of his fleet and promptly forbade women from coming aboard the galleys. He declared that blasphemy among the crews would be punishable by death. The whole fleet followed his example and made a three-day fast.

By September 28, the Holy League had made its way across the Adriatic Sea and was anchored between the west coast of Greece and the Island of Corfu. By this time, news of the death of Bragadino had reached the Holy League, and the Venetians were determined to settle the score. Don John reminded his fleet that the battle they would soon engage in was as much spiritual as physical.

Pius V had granted a plenary indulgence to the soldiers and crews of the Holy League. Priests of the great orders, Franciscans, Capuchins, Dominicans, Theatines, and Jesuits, were stationed on the decks of the Holy League’s galleys, offering Mass and hearing confessions. Many of the men who rowed the Christian galleys were criminals. Don John ordered them all unchained, and he issued them each a weapon, promising them their freedom if they fought bravely. He then gave every man in his fleet a weapon more powerful than anything the Turks could muster: a Rosary.

On the eve of battle, the men of the Holy League prepared their souls by falling to their knees on the decks of their galleys and praying the Rosary. Back in Rome, and up and down the Italian Peninsula, at the behest of Pius V, the churches were filled with the faithful telling their beads. In Heaven, the Blessed Mother, her Immaculate Heart aflame, was listening.

In the quiet of night, Don John met with his admirals on the deck of his flagship Real to review once more the order of battle. He had divided his fleet into four squadrons. Commanding the squadron on his left flank was a Venetian warrior named Agostin Barbarigo. The center squadron was commanded by Don John, assisted on either side by his vice admirals, the Roman Marcantonio Colonna, and the Venetian Sebastian Veniero. Directly behind the center squadron, Don John stationed the reserve squadron, commanded by the Spaniard Don Alvaro de Bazan, the Marquis of Santa Cruz. The right squadron was under the command of the Genovese Gianandrea Doria. Arrayed for battle, the mighty armada of the Holy League looked like nothing if not a Latin Cross.

Doria, despite his mercenary motives, had been the source of sound tactical counsel.

“Cut off the spars in the prows of the fleet’s galleys,” he told Don John. Galleys had been equipped with bow spars or rams since the days of Salamis. “This will permit the centerline bow cannons to depress further and fire their rounds at the waterline of the enemy hulls.” Don John’s famous order to remove these spars was a signal moment in naval warfare, heralding the age of gunpowder.

Doria also advised taking the League’s six galleases and stationing them in the van, two before each of the three forward squadrons. A galleas was a large, multi-decked, Venetian merchant galley that had been outfitted with cannons not only on its bow, but also along its port and starboard sides. Where an ordinary galley was most vulnerable, a galleas packed heavy firepower. Don John increased their lethality by packing the decks with Spanish shooters (arquebusiers), bearing their handheld, smoothbore, heavy guns. Though slow moving, these six galleases would provide a powerful shock at the start of the battle.

Doria was an admiral, but he was also a shipowner. He looked at Don John, raised his eyebrows, opened his palm, and offered, “There is still time, your grace, to avoid pitched battle.”

The young Captain General stood surrounded by men older and with greater seafaring and military experience than he. Silence filled the small stateroom as these men waited to hear his response. He caught their eyes, each one of them, as he looked around.

“Gentlemen,” he said. “The time for counsel has passed. Now is the time for war.”

The Divine Breath

It was. At dawn on October 7, 1571, the Holy League rowed down the west coast of Greece and turned east into the Gulf of Patras. When the morning mist cleared, the Christians, rowing directly against the wind, saw the squadrons of the larger Ottoman fleet arrayed like a crescent from shore to shore, bearing down on them under full sail.

As the fleets grew closer, the Christians could hear the gongs and cymbals, drums and cries of the Turks. The men of the Holy League quietly pulled at their oars, the soldiers stood on the decks in silent prayer. Priests holding large crucifixes marched up and down the decks exhorting the men to be brave and hearing final confessions.

Then the Blessed Virgin intervened.

The wind shifted 180 degrees. The sails of the Holy League were filled with the Divine breath, driving them into battle. Now heading directly into the wind, the Turks were forced to strike their sails. The tens of thousands of Christian galley slaves who rowed the Turkish vessels felt the sharp sting of the lash summoning them up from under their benches and demanding they take hold of their oars and pull against the wind.

Don John knelt on the prow of Real and said a final prayer. Then he stood and gave the order for the Holy League’s battle standard, a gift from Pius V, to be unfurled. Christians up and down the battle line cheered as they saw the giant blue banner bearing an image of our crucified Lord.

The fleets engaged at midday. The first fighting began along the Holy League’s left flank, where many of the smaller, swifter Turkish galleys were able to maneuver around Agostin Barbarigo’s inshore flank. The Venetian admiral responded with a near impossibility: He pivoted his entire squadron, fifty-four ships, counterclockwise and began to pin the Turkish right flank, commanded by Mehemet Sirrocco, against the north shore of the Gulf of Patras. Gaps formed in Barbarigo’s line and Ottoman galleys broke into the intervals. As galley pulled up along galley, the slaughter brought on by cannon, musket ball, and arrow was horrific, but the Venetians in time prevailed. Barbarigo took an arrow to the eye, but before he died he learned of the death of Sirrocco and the crushing defeat of the Turkish right line.

In the center of the battle, breaking a convention of naval warfare, the opposing flagships engaged—Don John’s Real with Muezzinzade Ali Pasha’s Sultana. Twice Spanish infantry boarded and drove the Sultana’s Janissaries back to the mast, and twice they were driven back to the Real by Ottoman reinforcements. Don John led the third charge across Sultana’s bloodied deck. He was wounded in the leg, but Ali Pasha took a musketball to the forehead. One of Real’s freed convicts lopped off the Turkish admiral’s head and held it aloft on a pike. The Muslims’ sacred banner, with the name of Allah stitched in gold calligraphy 28,900 times, which Islamic tradition held was carried in battle by the Prophet, was captured by the Christians. Terror struck the Turks, but the fight was far from won.

On the Holy League’s right flank, Doria was forced to increase the intervals between his galleys to keep his line from being flanked on the south by the larger Ottoman squadron under the command of the Algerian Uluch Ali. When the space between Doria’s squadron and Don John’s grew large enough, Uluch Ali sent his corsairs through the gap to envelop the galleys of Don John’s squadron from behind. Don Alvaro de Bazan, commanding the Holy League’s reserve squadron of thirty-five galleys, had carefully kept his ships out of the fray until the moment came when he was most needed. Now he entered the fight, rescuing the center of the Holy League from the Turkish vessels that had surrounded them before turning his squadron south to aid the outmanned Doria.

The fighting lasted for five hours. The sides were evenly matched and well led, but the Divine favored the Christians, and once the battle turned in their favor it became a rout. All but thirteen of the nearly 300 Turkish vessels were captured or sunk and over 30,000 Turks were slain. Not until the First World War would the world again witness such carnage in a single day’s fighting. In the aftermath of the battle, the Christians gave no quarter, making sure to kill the helmsmen, galley captains, archers, and Janissaries. The sultan could rebuild ships, but without these men, it would be years before he would be able to use them.

The news of the victory made its way back to Rome, but the Pope was already rejoicing. On the day of the battle, Pius had been consulting with his cardinals at the Dominican Basilica of Santa Sabina on the Aventine Hill. He paused in the midst of their deliberations to look out the window. Up in the sky, the Blessed Mother favored him with a vision of the victory. Turning to his cardinals he said, “Let us set aside business and fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God, for he has given our fleet a great victory.”

SIDEBARS

Interesting Facts about the Battle

  • A young contemporary of Don John’s, Miguel Cervantes, fought with abandon and lost his left hand to a Turkish blade. With his remaining hand, he later penned Spain’s greatest novel, Don Quixote.
  • On another galley, a soldier of the Holy League, his soul torn with despair, took his sword to the ship’s crucifix. The blade instantly shattered. Many years later, an attempt to re-forge the sword was made, but when the new blade was pulled from the fire, it fell to pieces.
  • The crucifix on board the Real, which twisted itself to avoid a Turkish cannonball, is displayed in a side chapel of the cathedral of Barcelona.
  • Gianandrea Doria carried on his galley a gift from the king of Spain, an image that is now displayed in the Doria chapel in the cathedral in Genoa. Exactly forty years before the battle of Lepanto, the Blessed Virgin appeared to a peasant boy leaving a miraculous image of herself on his smock. The bishop of the region immediately commissioned an artist to paint five copies of the image, and he touched each one to the original. Our Lady of Guadalupe was present at Lepanto.

Timeline for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary

  • In thanksgiving for the victory at Lepanto on the first Sunday of October 1571, Pope St. Pius V ordered that a commemoration of the Rosary should be made on that day.
  • At the request of the Dominican Order, in 1573 Pope Gregory XIII allowed the feast to be kept in all churches with an altar dedicated to the Holy Rosary.
  • In 1671, the observance of the feast was extended by Pope Clement X to the whole of Spain.
  • Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church after the important victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene on August 6, 1716, the feast of our Lady of the Snows, at Peterwardein in Hungary.

Other Feasts That Celebrate Military Victories

  • May 24, Our Lady Help of Christians, commemorates the defeat of one of history’s greatest generals (and most wicked men), Napoleon Bonaparte.
  • August 6, The Transfiguration of Christ, was extended to the Universal Church by Pope Calixtus III to celebrate legendary Hungarian general János Hunyadi’s victory over the Turks at Belgrade in 1456. This feast has great significance for Orthodox and Eastern Rite Catholic churches.
  • September 12, the Holy Name of Mary, celebrates the victory of John Sobieski and his Polish warriors over the Ottoman Turks at the gates of Vienna in 1683.

Further Reading

  • Lepanto by G. K. Chesterton (Ignatius, 2004)
  • The Galleys at Lepanto by Jack Beeching (Scribner, 1983 – out of print; used copies available online)
  • Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know by Diane Moczar (Sophia Institute, 2006)

Prayer to Our Lady of the Most Holy Rosary

O Queen of the Most Holy Rosary, in these times of such brazen impiety, manifest thy power with the signs of thine ancient victories.

From thy throne whence thou dispense pardon and grace, mercifully regard the Church of thy Son, His Vicar on Earth, and every order of clergy, religious, and laity, who are oppressed in this mighty conflict.

Thou who art powerful, the vanquisher of all heresies, hasten the hour of mercy, even though the hour of God’s justice is every day provoked by the countless sins of men, the sons and daughters of Adam.

Obtain for me, the least of men, kneeling before thee in supplication, the grace I need to live righteously upon earth, in order to be numbered among the just in heaven.

In the company of all faithful Christians throughout the world, I salute thee and acclaim thee as Queen of the Most Holy Rosary.

Queen of the Most Holy Rosary pray for us.

Amen
(indulgence of 500 days; Raccolta, no. 399)

Love,
Matthew

Fall of Constantinople


-“Mehmed II, Entering to Constantinople”, Fausto Zonaro (1854-1929), please click on the image for greater detail.


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“In the late thirteenth century, a Turkish ruler known as Osman began the military expansion of the Ottoman Empire. A century later, Ottoman forces were making excursions into imperial Byzantine territory. Ottoman expansion was doggedly focused on one overriding objective: the capture of the “Queen of Cities,” (Constantinople), and the subjection of Christian Europe.

The emperor Constantine, who legalized the Christian Faith in the early fourth century, created the Queen of Cities by moving the imperial capital from Rome to Byzantium. Originally known as “New Rome,” the city was later renamed “Constantinople” for its imperial founder. Constantine spared no expense in building his new capital. St. Jerome, in the next century, quipped that “in clothing Constantinople, the rest of the world was left naked.”

The civic importance and strategic location of the new city assisted in its growth, so that by the end of the fifth century it boasted a population of half a million. Constantinople was a formidable city: it encompassed a perimeter of twelve miles, eight of which were ringed by the sea, and boasted a massive defensive wall, built a thousand years earlier. Many armies, including numerous Islamic hordes, had tried to take the impregnable city and failed. As a result, the city was known among the Turks as “a bone in the throat of Allah,” and among Christians as “the bulwark against Islam.” The city had been conquered only once before by the misguided warriors of the Fourth Crusade, who were invited to the city by a renegade Byzantine prince desirous of the imperial purple. Nearly 250 years later, another army was poised to breach the ancient yet sturdy walls, and lay waste to the Empire.

In the middle of the fifteenth century, Mehmet II, a successor of Osman as sultan, was able to fulfill the great Ottoman dream. Known as the “Drinker of Blood,” Mehmet had dreamed of conquering Constantinople from boyhood and as sultan, he initiated plans designed to end the Byzantine Empire once and for all.

Mehmet learned from the past failed sieges of Constantinople and realized a successful plan required naval and land superiority. In particular, Mehmet knew he had to gain possession of the Golden Horn, a horn-shaped estuary near the city. The sultan ordered a major shipbuilding campaign in order to defeat the Byzantine navy, which was in a state of serious neglect and decline.

Mehmet’s naval plan centered on his fleet blockading the city and preventing any Christian relief and reinforcements from the sea. He realized that control of the Golden Horn would require the Byzantines to guard both the land and sea walls, thereby stretching the city’s defenders and military resources. Previous land sieges failed because the besieging armies could not find a way past the massive defensive walls of Constantinople. So, Mehmet devised a plan to knock the walls down with the use of cannon, but he knew available cannons could not destroy the walls.

Fortuitously, a Hungarian engineer named Urban, who had been rebuffed by the Byzantines, arrived at the sultan’s court offering his services. Urban convinced the sultan that he could cast a cannon large enough to shatter the walls of Constantinople. Once hired, the Hungarian worked for three months to produce the largest bronze cast cannon in the world. It measured twenty-seven feet long with an eight-inch barrel and was thirty inches across the muzzle. The cannon fired a solid shot eight feet in circumference, weighing fifteen hundred pounds, a full mile. The cannon was so large it required sixty oxen and two hundred men to move. Firing the gun was a complex and labor-intensive effort, which limited its effective rate of fire to only seven times a day. With his super gun in tow, the “Drinker of Blood” mobilized his troops and ships and began his march to the walls of the Queen of Cities and on destiny.

The massive Turkish army of 200,000 men arrived outside the walls of Constantinople on Easter Sunday, April 1, 1453. The Byzantine defenders were heavily outnumbered. After arrival at the city and establishing camp, Mehmet offered terms for the surrender of Constantinople, but Constantine XI rejected them. Mehmet ordered his artillery to begin the bombardment of the walls on April 12 and the sixty-nine artillery pieces including Urban’s super cannon battered the walls continuously for six days. Urban’s super cannon unleashed fury on the Constantinopolitan walls but it developed cracks early in the siege and exploded. After the continuous bombardment, Mehmet ordered the commencement of mining operations, in order to weaken a section of the walls, cause a collapse, and result in a breach.

The outnumbered Byzantines fought bravely, but after a month, the situation in the city was desperate. An imperial council of war pleaded for Constantine XI to flee but the stalwart emperor refused. The Ottomans continued their mining operations and assaults, even constructing a siege tower, which the Byzantines destroyed with explosives. The siege continued for another month and, despite the valiant defensive efforts, the city was at the breaking point. On May 29, the sultan ordered the final general assault in the early morning hours. The initial wave was defeated but the Ottoman troops steadily assaulted the walls in wave after wave. A shot from an Ottoman cannon succeeded in breaching the inner enclosure and into the gap poured hundreds of Turkish troops, but they were rebuffed by the Byzantine defenders.

Although his city and his troops were exhausted, Constantine XI believed the tide had turned and victory was near. However, in war, the smallest of actions and the bravery of a few can determine the course of victory. Some Ottoman troops found a postern gate near the Blachernae Palace unguarded, they opened the gate and poured into the defenses where they invested the wall, tore down a Christian banner, and replaced it with the Ottoman standard. Within fifteen minutes, thirty thousand Muslim warriors were in the city. Horrified at the sudden change in the situation, Constantine rushed to the wall to defend his beloved city and empire but perished among the throng.

The twenty-one-year-old sultan had defeated the forty-nine-year-old emperor and became known as Mehmet the Conqueror. Muslim troops ran through the undefended city slaughtering its inhabitants. A large group of citizens sought refuge in Hagia Sophia, the sixth century church built by Justinian the Great and the largest church in Christendom. Mehmet entered the city triumphantly and rode for the church, which he entered and declared a mosque. The sack of Constantinople continued for three days and witnessed the killing of thousands and the enslavement of tens of thousands.

The Queen of Cities, now in the hands of Islam, became known as Istanbul. Despite the pleadings of a series of popes, including Pius II, who personally took the Crusade vow but died before the expedition began, Western rulers were not interested in undertaking crusades to liberate the city.

The fight against Islam was not over. Future battles between Islam and the West were fought on European soil over the next several centuries.”

Love,
Matthew

Muslim discovers the Catholic Church

-by David Shawkan, David was born in January 1979 in Baghdad, Iraq. He works as a Senior Business Analyst and lives in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. He holds a BS degree in Civil Engineering and an MS degree in Management of Information Systems. David is married and has two children, a son, 11, and a daughter, 8. They are parishioners of St. Bartholomew the Apostle Catholic Parish in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. David enjoys reading and writing; he is writing a book, “Jesus, The Source and Summit of Us All”.

“So they took away the stone. And Jesus raised His eyes and said, “Father, I thank You for hearing Me. I know that You always hear Me; but because of the crowd here I have said this, that they may believe that You sent Me.” And when He had said this, He cried out in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, tied hand and foot with burial bands, and His face was wrapped in a cloth. So Jesus said to them, “Untie him and let him go.”
(-John 11:41–44 NABRE)

“My name is David, and I am the Lazarus of that Gospel passage. I was born in Baghdad, Iraq in 1979 to a Muslim family of nine — six boys and three girls. I was the eighth child.

However, my family was not a happy one. My father was an alcoholic, and my parents fought regularly. From time to time, my father would leave the house, then come back a couple of days later to turn over a new leaf. But it was always the same old story. Finally, when I was about 12, my parents got divorced.

I have almost no memory of my father teaching me right from wrong, giving me advice, or showing me how to do things. My mother did her best to raise us right, but with her huge family, it was never enough. To help with the family’s finances, I started working at age 10, carrying out merchandise to people’s cars at a nearby grocery store. I would also go with one or two of my brothers to sell a bag full of items at a curbside spot known as the “Friday Market.” This was how we put food on the table. As the years advanced, most of my brothers were sent off to do their mandatory eight-year military service, so I ended up being the flag bearer at home.

Although I was lonely, I never felt alone. There was always Someone, whose identity I did not know, watching over me.

I was acquainted with God even when I was small. My family was not godless, but neither were we strictly religious. Most of my understanding about God came from the religious education I received at school, from reading, media, and an occasional visit to mosques and other places of religious significance. Most of my family would pray, fast, offer sacrifices, and give to charity, but not in a regular way.

I was an overweight kid and clumsy. At school, I was always the last one to be picked for sports. (Soccer was my favorite game, if I was allowed to play.) This affected my social skills and friendships; I actually had very few friends. As a result, I put all my effort into study, gaining a top ten in district when I graduated from elementary school. In this way, I became eligible to take a test to be accepted at the most prestigious middle and high school in the country. I passed the test, and my transformation began.

Throughout the subsequent years, my social grace improved, but I was less religious. When I graduated, I was admitted to the College of Engineering.

My family members moved into adulthood; some married and left home. Our father, of course, was gone. Eventually two of my brothers decided to leave Iraq for Jordan, then go on to Dubai, to escape the increasing government oppression. Nearly the entire family followed, leaving me to finish college alone.

Although I was lonely, I never felt alone. There was always Someone, whose identity I did not know, watching over me.

I graduated in 2001 and started getting my passport and papers so I could travel abroad. In the process, I met my soulmate, Emily, who is now my wife. We talked, dated, and got engaged.

Then in late 2002, I traveled to Dubai, where employment was waiting for me with a structural engineering firm. But my heart was not in the work; I had left it back home with my fiancée. When the new year came, war started, and with it, communication ended. I could reach no one back in Iraq.

I spent many hours watching the war news on television and thinking. Then I decided to do a crazy thing: In the middle of this war, I would return to Iraq to be with my fiancée, my friends, and whatever was left of my family. I had this lunatic idea that, with the war, the economy would be better and there would be more opportunity for everyone, especially for those, like me, with outside experience.

The only way back to Iraq was through Syria. So I flew to Syria, then took a minibus going to Baghdad. We passed the border and secondary checkpoints, but by then it was after sunset and night travel was dangerous, so we spent the night there. At sunrise, we resumed our journey. The road was empty, and it was scary. When we reached Baghdad, I went directly home and joyfully found everyone OK.

In less than a week, the war was over — but the chaos was just beginning. I had brought some money with me, but found no work, so the money dwindled away. In a fatalist mood, Emily and I decided that it would be better just to get married, and whatever happens, happens.

We were married in a civil ceremony. Then we waited a couple of months; she stayed with her parents and I in my family’s home, while I rented an apartment, bought furniture and other necessities. We finally began our married life in late 2004, with me still unemployed and a mere $300 between us.

Although we were lonely, we never felt alone. There was always Someone, whose identity we did not know, watching over us.

Our apartment was on Haifa Street, soon to be known as the notorious “Death Street.” After the war, many of the apartments on this street were vacant. This attracted the terrorists, where they could move about as if they were normal citizens. There were also many terrorist sympathizers in that area of the city, so that the terrorists acquired weapons and power.

The violence started when a U.S. convoy passed through. Suddenly bombs were detonated and the convoy was ambushed. All the U.S. soldiers were killed, and the terrorists jumped into the vehicles, shouting their slogan.

We ordinary people either left the neighborhood or learned to live with the situation. Our son was born in 2005, and I was employed by a company that served as vendor and supplier to the U.S. troops, government contractors, and other companies, so we stayed. I worked in the Green Zone, the Camps, and in other locations throughout the country. I had business relations with contractors and U.S. Army personnel, especially the Corps of Engineers. In the end, I started my own vendor-supplier company.

My wife, meanwhile, was working as an office manager with one of the American security companies, giving us some financial security.

But we had to keep our employment secret, because the terrorists would kill us as traitors if they knew. Anyone who worked for the Americans or joined the new local army would be on their death list.

I will never forget the day we awoke to see an Iraqi soldier, pieces of his body tied together with a rope, hanging between a light pole and a tree across the street. A cardboard sign stated, “This is the destiny of all traitors.” After that, the U.S. and Iraqi Armies refused to enter that neighborhood. The terrorists had it to themselves. They began to threaten, run out, and kill people of other ethnicities. They controlled access and killed on the spot anyone they decided was a traitor.

When our son Steven was three years old, we got word that the terrorists were out to get us. They must have found out where we worked. It was as if that same Someone who had called Abraham — “Go forth from your land, your relatives, and from your father’s house to a land that I will show you” (Genesis 12:1 NABRE) — called us; we got our gear together and fled to Dubai.

I found work in downtown Dubai as a civil engineer with a consulting firm, building the tallest building in the world. We had a good income, a great apartment, and everything pertaining to a luxurious life. Our son grew, we had a daughter, and life was stable. But something was missing. There was a longing for meaning, for something or Someone that wasn’t in our lives at that time.

I hadn’t forgotten God, but I wasn’t living for Him and letting Him show me the way. Instead, I was trying to make my own way. This filled me with pride and arrogance. I became judgmental, considering some people beneath me. Now God, in His boundless love, was about to humble me and purge me, visiting upon me an interior captivity and suffering like that which He visited upon the Chosen People when they were in Egypt (see Exodus 2:23–25).

When the recession hit, the construction and real estate market in Dubai collapsed, and many people, including myself, lost their jobs. And if you were a foreigner in that situation, you lost your immigration sponsorship and had to leave the country. The speed with which all this happened left us stunned. I had no plan, little savings, and many financial obligations. We were forced to sell everything we had at a loss, and I left the car at the airport as we left.

But where would we go? We couldn’t go back to Iraq; we would be killed, for sure. So we decided to go to Jordan and apply for a program called SIV (Special Immigration Visa). This was a program for people who had worked for the U.S. government or their contractors and could not return to Iraq because of threats.

So my family flew to Jordan — myself, my wife, and the two children, ages four and one. And in Jordan, God taught us the real meaning of suffering. He humbled me, especially, in preparation of what was to come. Life there was much different than it had been in Dubai: no employment, no income, no resources, no family or financial support, high living expenses, and barely enough money to last two or three months. We had gone from luxury to poverty in a plane trip.

The SIV process took much longer than we had money for. Interviews and screening and job hunting seemed to go on and on. Finally, some meager help arrived from both my wife’s family and my own. We still had to live on bread, water, and occasional cheap vegetables. We lived for our children, who were trapped inside the four walls of our living quarters as in a jail.

We had a three-day respite when my family visited us. They took us to the tomb of Jethro and to Mount Nebo, where Moses had stood (see Deuteronomy 34), and we could see the Holy Land far below. I felt a longing for that place, the Holy Land. Everybody claims it — the Jews, the Christians, the Muslims — but it is really for all peoples. In that moment, I felt that God was going to help us. My faith grew stronger, and I began in earnest my return to God.

After several more months of waiting, the International Organization for Immigration (IOM) notified us, saying that we should get ready to leave for the United States, our departure date being within six days. However, four days later, the IOM notified us that the trip was canceled. My passport, which had been issued under the old Iraqi regime in 2002, was no longer valid now that Iraq had a new government. So I needed to acquire a new passport before we could leave. We had been lifted up only to be thrown down again.

Yet somehow, the pain I felt was not rage or anger, but pure suffering. In my poverty, I had grown closer to God, to that Someone who was always with me. And now He helped and supported me through the procedure of completing the documents, receiving my passport, and receiving another departure date. This time, for sure, I had completed my time of slavery in the land of Jordan. God was, in effect, telling me, as He had told Moses (Exodus 3:7–8 NABRE), “I have witnessed the affliction of my people in Egypt and have heard their cry against their taskmasters, so I know well what they are suffering. Therefore I have come down to rescue them from the power of the Egyptians and lead them up from that land into a good and spacious land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”

Our exodus brought us finally to the United States of America in May of 2010. We stayed with friends for a few days, then rented a small apartment in Scotch Plains, NJ, where we still live today.

At this point, new challenges began. No one in the family knew English and the culture was different. We looked like strangers and got strange looks on the street. Some people welcomed us with a smile, while others did not like us. The task of adapting to this new life was daunting, and at times we thought of giving up and going back. But I’m not a quitter, so we stayed on.

I found a warehousing job in Freehold, an hour’s commute away: twelve hours a day, six days a week in a huge, windowless warehouse, without heating or cooling, lifting 50 pound boxes onto shelves or pulling them off shelves and stacking them on pallets. I would leave home before dawn and return when the children were going to bed, so I never had any time with them. Finally my body gave out, and I suffered a back injury. I applied for Worker’s Compensation, but they said, “You’re OK, you can return to work after a short rest.” I hired a lawyer and filed a grievance, and in this way finally got proper diagnosis and treatment for my slipped disc and nerve damage. To this day, I am physically limited because of that injury.

Back on the job market, finding employment was difficult. I needed work to support my family. Did that God I had trusted during all this time even exist? I was beginning to wonder.

Yet in the midst of my interior struggle, blinded and lost in a strange land, once again that Someone came to me, removed my blindfold and allowed me to see a glimmer on the other side of the wilderness. Here I was, wandering, searching, looking for answers, and at every turn, that Someone was there: Jesus.

I had encountered Jesus, as a Muslim, in the Qu’ran. In that book, He was not the Son of God, but I had always liked the stories that related to Him, the mystery that surrounded Him. I never realized until here, in America, it dawned on me that He might be the One who was watching over me, guiding me.

I recalled watching a video, where the Pharisees wanted to stone a woman who had committed adultery. To test Him, they asked Jesus about it. He turned to them and said (John 8:7 NABRE), “Let the one among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.” No one had an answer to that. Jesus then told the woman (verse 11): “Go, and from now on do not sin any more.” I was astonished by this combination of authority and simplicity, and it inspired me to read the Bible. With such conflict within me, I dared not tell anyone what I was doing, not even my wife. It had to be a solitary journey, just between me and God.

I downloaded a Bible app on my phone; a physical Bible would be a giveaway to what I was doing. I read through Genesis and Exodus, but that wasn’t telling me what I needed to know. So I moved to the New Testament, beginning with the Gospel according to Matthew. When I reached chapter five, the Sermon on the Mount, I was amazed. Wow! What is going on? Who is this Person who tells people to love their enemies, to turn the other cheek, and all these other things? What really captured my mind and heart was this:

Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks, receives; and the one who seeks, finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. (Matthew 7:7–8 NABRE)

It seemed He was talking directly to me, telling me to seek Him and I would find Him.

Then I compared Jesus to everyone else in the Bible and throughout history. Everybody made mistakes and committed sins — except Jesus. That was a milestone, a moment of truth. Who is this sinless man? Where did He get all these tremendous teachings? Where did He derive His authority? The questions multiplied, but along with them, that glimmer of light began to grow within me.

I wrestled with God. What are You doing to me? Is this the path I should follow? I would fall asleep with these thoughts continually going through my head. Then one night, I had a dream. I saw Someone whose face shown like light. I couldn’t see the face itself, just the bright light. He held out His hand and said, “Come, do not be afraid.” When I awoke, I felt overwhelmed by the glory and was filled with joy and relief. This had to be the One!

Yet I would be lying if I said that I immediately believed in Jesus or submitted to Him. I needed a sign, something I could survey and evaluate. So for the first time in my life, I asked Jesus to provide me proof that He is real and — most importantly — alive.

Soon afterwards, my wife and I were returning from the city with the children. The car was parked at the train station. The weather was humid, and there was a layer of humidity on the car, so that one could doodle on it with his finger. On the windshield, driver’s side, there was a fish sign traced, like the ones the early Christians drew to identify themselves one to another. It hadn’t been done with a finger, because the moisture would be dripping down if it were. It was just there, perfectly outlined. All of us saw it, but I was the only one who knew what it meant: Jesus had left me a sign. Now I knew that Jesus is alive. He was the One who was always there for me, watching over me in every danger, every misfortune. I had been blind, but He helped me to see.

When we got home, I went straight to the bedroom, closed the door, knelt facing the window, and submitted myself to Jesus. In return, He gave me a comfort and peace that I had never before known. I now believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and in the Holy Trinity. I believed that Jesus was crucified, resurrected, and alive, that He will come again to rule the righteous in His kingdom.

So now, to be Christian believers, we needed to attend a church. But which Church was the right one? More questions, a never-ending flow!

My family and I decided to study the history of Christianity, to see which Church was the true one. We studied about the disciples, the Apostles, the early Church, the bishops, the centers of power in the ancient and medieval world, the later divisions, basically the whole history. We also visited different churches: Catholic, Protestant, even Orthodox. We met and talked with many people along the way; they provided wonderful support and insight.

Coming from a Muslim background, one point we considered was the Virgin Mary. Back home in Iraq, we had a picture of Mary hanging in one of the rooms. She wore a green scarf. As a small child, I had no understanding of Mary’s significance. All I knew was that her pure face filled me with joy whenever I looked at her. My mother occasionally went to a nearby church to light candles. And yes, she had a rosary. She claimed that the Virgin Mary appeared to her in dreams to comfort her when times were difficult, like during the Iran–Iraq war in the eighties, when one of my older brothers was seriously wounded. For a Muslim boy, Mary was routine, but as I think of her now, guarding us with her love, it’s overwhelming.

My wife had had the same experience when she was small. She, her sister and mother would sometimes go to a church and light candles to the Virgin, to pray and ask her to be with them in their sorrow — and their prayers were answered.

The Virgin Mary, then, had a special place in our hearts and prayers, even as Muslims.

To research the Bible, we delved into its history, comparing the sacred Scriptures of the early Churches. We discovered that the Catholic and Orthodox Bibles have some books that are not in the Protestant Bibles. Well, those books either had to have been added or removed. So we researched the development of the Canon. It turned out that all the books were in the ancient official list from the Council of Hippo, ad 393. So history affirms that the books were later removed from the Protestant Bibles.

In the process of this research, I had acquired several different versions of the Bible. I asked the Lord to show me the right path. I placed the New American Bible (a Catholic version) under my pillow to sleep on it. That night I had a dream of a huge place with a multitude of people. Everyone was dressed in white. I was holding the Bible in my hand, reading it as if teaching. This confirmed to me that the Catholic Bible was the true one.

Now every faith has its prayers. But for Christians, there is a commandment in Scripture to pray the Lord’s Prayer. In Matthew 6:9 (NABRE), Jesus tells His disciples, “This is how you are to pray.” He did not make it optional; therefore, it is obligatory. Which churches taught this?

Regarding worship, the foundation is that of establishing and maintaining a harmonious and loving relationship with God. God is superior to man, so man should be in submission to God. Moses was commanded to remove his sandals when God appeared to him in the burning bush. And it is said that the Apostle Peter, when condemned to death by the Romans, asked to be crucified upside down out of humility. Both men respected God in their actions.

From this perspective, our worship — place, time, posture, rituals, prayers, etc. — must reflect our spiritual submission to Jesus. Worship should also strengthen faith and unity within the Church. It must take place between heaven and earth and align our prayers with heaven. These things we found fulfilled in the Catholic Mass. The altar, the incense, the ancient and holy prayers — all this caught our hearts and souls from the first time we attended. We were drawn, through study and attendance, to the Holy Sacrifice, the clean oblation, the offering that hearkens back to the first human being. This was the ultimate sacrifice for all mankind.

We were baptized, confirmed, and received our first communion at Easter 2016. My wife was happier than I had ever seen her. My son is now an altar boy, and my daughter is looking forward to serving God when she is older. We attend Mass daily as a family.

My life has changed for the better. I became a U.S. citizen. I obtained my master’s degree and am now working as a business analyst. I have become part of this wonderful community because God has been generous, rewarding me for my steadfastness by answering my prayers. He is just and all His statutes are just. He is the true and only God, in whom I believe and whom I seek to please all the days of my life.

Throughout my whole life, Jesus was with me, though I knew nothing of Him. He called me out of the land of Mesopotamia, the Nineveh of Tobit and Jonah, the Babylon of Daniel and the exiles, the Ur of Abraham. He led me out of slavery, through an exodus, and into a Promised Land. He humbled me through suffering in preparation for redemption and restoration.

At the right moment, when I was desperate, alone, abandoned in a dark place, as if I were dead, Jesus was standing there, in the light, calling to me, “David, come out!” Soon I found myself in His welcoming arms, clinging to Him with all my might.””

Love,
Matthew

May 18 – Sep 11, 1565: Knights Hospitaller defeat the Ottomans at Malta (3 months, 3 weeks, 3 days)


Lifting of the Siege of Malta by Charles-Philippe Larivière (1798–1876). Hall of the Crusades, Palace of Versailles. please click on the image for greater detail


-by Steve Weidenkopf

“In the same year that Pope Leo X condemned the errors of the recalcitrant Augustinian, Martin Luther, the sultan of the Ottoman Empire died. It was 1520, and Selim I left the throne of the mighty Turkish Empire to his only surviving son, Suleiman, who would come to be known to history as “the Magnificent.” Every Ottoman sultan was expected to glorify Islam by adding territory to the empire, and the Ottomans’ victorious and bloody march through Christendom since the late fourteenth century showed no signs of slowing at the beginning of the sixteenth.

Suleiman was the grandson of Mehmet II, the conqueror of Constantinople, but he quickly overshadowed the great achievement of his ancestor. While Mehmet focused on conquering the “Queen of Cities,” Suleiman set out during his forty-six-year reign to conquer the world. His forces conquered Baghdad, Belgrade, Budapest, and Rhodes. As the empire reached what would be its furthest reach, Ottoman military planners knew that land conquests were important but insufficient: control of the seaways was vital. Therefore, the Ottomans embarked on a campaign to control the “center of the world,” the Mediterranean Sea.

Suleiman’s desire to control the Mediterranean was thwarted for a time, however, by a Catholic military religious order: the Knights Hospitaller on the island of Malta. An Ottoman fleet successfully conquered the Knights’ previous home island of Rhodes in 1522, but Suleiman allowed the surviving Christian warriors to leave the island due to their gallant and tenacious defense. The Knights settled on the strategic island of Malta and harassed Ottoman naval vessels for the next thirty years. By 1565, Suleiman could no longer ignore the problem of the Knights, so he assembled an army of 40,000 warriors, a hundred artillery pieces, and one hundred thousand cannonballs and set out to attack Malta. He was certain of the imminent victory of Islam, but once more the Knights would prove their mettle and push back against the Ottoman horde.

The Knights had used Malta as their base of operations for almost forty years when the great Ottoman invasion fleet arrived. The Master General of the Order, Jean de La Valette, a veteran of the siege of Rhodes, knew the situation was desperate, so he sent a summons to all the Knights in Christendom to come to the island’s defense. He recognized that if Malta fell, the Muslims would gain a strategic base from which to launch an invasion of Sicily, Italy, and ultimately the very heart of Christendom, Rome.

The Ottomans arrived on Malta in May 1565 with a 180-ship fleet that sailed into and took the main harbor, unopposed. La Valette had placed his greatly outnumbered troops in several forts around the harbor. The Ottomans disembarked and arranged their camp in a crescent shape, as was their custom. The Christian defense centered on Fort St. Elmo, at the tip of the largest and most strategic peninsula, as it commanded the entrance to the harbor. Recognizing the importance of the fort, the Ottoman commanders decided to attack it on May 25. Ottoman engineers estimated it would fall in four or five days, but their calculation proved substantially incorrect.

As the calendar turned to June, the Ottomans had succeeded in capturing only the outer trench. The fight was brutal, seeing bitter hand-to-hand combat, heavy sniper activity, and a near-continuous Ottoman artillery barrage. Although the defenders fought bravely, it was only a matter of time before the fort would fall.

The defenders knew the end was near when a cannonball decapitated the fort’s commander on the twenty-sixth day of the siege. The Ottomans launched what proved to be the last attack on June 23 against the sixty Christian defenders remaining (out of an original strength of 1500). Only five ultimately survived the siege. The Ottoman commander (Mustapha Pasha) hoped to demoralize the remaining Christian troops across the harbor so he ordered some of the bodies of the dead Knights stripped of their armor, their hearts ripped out and heads cut off. Each headless corpse was then marked with a cross cut into the chest and nailed by the hands and feet to a wooden crucifix, which was placed into the water to float across the harbor to the remaining Christian defenses. La Valette responded to the Ottoman atrocity by beheading captured Muslim soldiers, loading the heads into his cannons, and firing them into the Muslim camp.

This grotesque exchange illustrates the fact that both sides knew this was a fight to the death, and that the stakes both for the Islamic caliphate and for Christendom could not be higher.

Those who died at Fort St. Elmo gave the other defenders of Malta time to consolidate and reinforce their positions, but the respite was short-lived. Fighting was intense through the month of July, and in early August an Ottoman assault nearly broke the Christian defenses. The hour was so desperate that even Maltese civilians, including women and children, manned the walls to push back the Turks. The remaining days of August were filled with intense trench combat that produced a stalemate, and casualties on both sides were heavy.

The Christian defenders received news on September 8, the Feast of the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin Mary of the arrival of the long-awaited Spanish relief force in eighty ships. A few days later, on September 11, 1565, the Spanish reinforcements began their march towards the harbor to relieve La Valette’s troops. Aware of their vulnerability, the Ottoman commanders tried a risky, and ultimately futile, attack against the Spanish relief force. The fresh Spanish forces easily routed the Ottoman troops, who were wearied after four months of heavy fighting.


-Jean Parisot de Valette, please click on the image for greater detail

The Ottomans retreated hastily to their waiting ships in St. Paul’s Bay, the famous site of St. Paul’s shipwreck fifteen centuries before, and sailed home. Malta was saved and with it, Christendom. Pope Pius IV offered La Valette the cardinal’s hat for his valiant and brilliant defense of Malta, but the humble warrior refused the offer. He lived another five years, dying from a stroke after returning from a hunt on a hot summer day. He was buried on the island he so nobly defended.”


-re-enactment, please click on the image for greater detail


Non nobis Domine, Domine
Non nobis Domine
Sed nomini, Sed nomini
Tu o da gloriam

Not unto us, O Lord
Not unto us, O Lord
But to Your name
But to Your name
Give the Glory!

Love,
Matthew

St Thomas Aquinas on Islam

Taj Mahal Agra India

“[Muhammad] seduced the people by promises of carnal pleasure to which the concupiscence of the flesh goads us. His teaching also contained precepts that were in conformity with his promises, and he gave free rein to carnal pleasure. In all this, as is not unexpected, he was obeyed by carnal men.

As for proofs of the truth of his doctrine, he brought forward only such as could be grasped by the natural ability of anyone with a very modest wisdom. Indeed, the truths that he taught he mingled with many fables and with doctrines of the greatest falsity.

He did not bring forth any signs produced in a supernatural way, which alone fittingly gives witness to divine inspiration; for a visible action that can be only divine reveals an invisibly inspired teacher of truth. On the contrary, Muhammad said that he was sent in the power of his arms—which are signs not lacking even to robbers and tyrants.

What is more, no wise men, men trained in things divine and human, believed in him from the beginning. Those who believed in him were brutal men and desert wanderers, utterly ignorant of all divine teaching, through whose numbers Muhammad forced others to become his followers by the violence of his arms.

Nor do divine pronouncements on the part of preceding prophets offer him any witness. On the contrary, he perverts almost all the testimonies of the Old and New Testaments by making them into fabrications of his own, as can be seen by anyone who examines his law.

It was, therefore, a shrewd decision on his part to forbid his followers to read the Old and New Testaments, lest these books convict him of falsity. It is thus clear that those who place any faith in his words believe foolishly.” –Summa Contra Gentiles (SCG) 1, 6, 4.

Love,
Matthew

Oct 7 – Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary/Our Lady of Victory


-“Battle of Lepanto”, by Andrea Vicentino, 1603, oil on canvas, Palazzo Ducale, Venice. Please click on the image for greater detail.


-original Ensign which flew on the Flag Ship of the Supreme Commander of the Holy League, Don Juan of Austria, at the Battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571 A.D.

This reproduction shows the Battle Flag of Lepanto designed by Pope Saint Pius V: with a Crucifix supported by the Shields of the members of the Holy League of 1571: King Philip of Spain, Saint Pius V, the Republic of Venice, and Don Juan of Austria, all united by the Chain of the Rosary. The Pattern symbolizes the Fleets of the Holy League in formation, and the woven border recalls the power of the Chain of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary protecting all the ships and sailors.

Originally celebrated liturgically as Our Lady of Victory, Pope St. Pius V established this feast in 1573. The purpose was to thank God for the victory of Christians over the Turks at Lepanto—a victory attributed to the praying of the rosary. Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church in 1716.

The Battle of Lepanto took place on 7 October 1571 when a galley fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of the Republic of Venice, the Papacy (under Pope Pius V), Spain (including Naples, Sicily and Sardinia), the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights Hospitaller and others, decisively defeated the main fleet of Ottoman war galleys.

The five-hour battle was fought at the northern edge of the Gulf of Patras, off western Greece, where the Ottoman forces sailing westwards from their naval station in Lepanto met the Holy League forces, which had come from Messina, on the morning of Sunday, 7 October. Their victory gave the Holy League temporary control over the Mediterranean, protected Rome from invasion, and prevented the Ottomans from advancing into Europe. This last major naval battle fought solely between rowing vessels was one of the world’s decisive battles “in history, inasmuch as ‘after Lepanto the pendulum swung back the other way and the wealth began to flow from East to West, a pattern that continues to this day'”, as well “as a ‘crucial turning point in the ongoing conflict between the Middle East and Europe, which has not yet completely been resolved.'” -Serpil Atamaz Hazar, “Review of Confrontation at Lepanto: Christendom vs. Islam,” The Historian 70.1 (Spring 2008): 163.

Fernando_Bertelli,_Die_Seeschlacht_von_Lepanto,_Venedig_1572,_Museo_Storico_Navale_(550x500)
– by Fernando Bertelli, Die Seeschlacht von Lepanto, Venedig 1572, Museo Storico Navale, (550×500), this particular painting occupies a prominent position at one end of the Hall of Maps, in the Vatican Museums, Rome.  Please click on the image for greater detail.

The engagement was a crushing defeat for the Ottomans, who had not lost a major naval battle since the fifteenth century.  In total, the Turks lost some 210 vessels – 80 sunk and 130 captured.  The Turks lost thirty thousand men, with another 3500 captured.  The Holy League had suffered around 7,500 soldiers, sailors and rowers dead, but freed about as many Christian prisoners.  On the Christian side 20 galleys were destroyed and 30 were damaged so seriously that they had to be scuttled. One Venetian galley was the only one kept by the Turks. All others were abandoned by them and recaptured.

Prior to the battle, the Christians having lost twice before at this same location, made special processions in Rome to the Blessed Virgin. Christians were asked to pray the Rosary for victory.  The triumph was credited to Our Lady of the Rosary.

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Americans know that in 1492 Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” but how many know that in the same year the heroic Catholic monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella conquered the Moors in Grenada? Americans would also probably recognize 1588 as the year of the defeat of the Spanish Armada by Francis Drake and the rest of Queen Elizabeth’s pirates. It was a tragedy for the Catholic kingdom of Spain and a triumph for the Protestant British Empire, and the defeat determined the kind of history that would one day be taught in American schools: Protestant British history.

As a result, 1571, the year of the battle of Lepanto, the most important naval contest in human history, is not well known to Americans. October 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, celebrates the victory at Lepanto, the battle that saved the Christian West from defeat at the hands of the Ottoman Turks.

That this military triumph is also a Marian feast underscores our image of the Blessed Virgin prefigured in the Canticle of Canticles: “Who is she that cometh forth as the morning rising, fair as the moon, bright as the sun, terrible as an army set in array?” In October of 1564, the Viziers of the Divan of the Ottoman Empire assembled to urge their sultan to prepare for war with Malta. “Many more difficult victories have fallen to your scimitar than the capture of a handful of men on a tiny little island that is not well fortified,” they told him. Their words were flattering but true. During the five-decade reign of Soleiman the Magnificent, the Ottoman Empire grew to its fullest glory, encompassing the Caucuses, the Balkans, Anatolia, the Middle East, and North Africa. Soleiman had conquered Aden, Algiers, Baghdad, Belgrade, Budapest, Rhodes, and Temesvar. His war galleys terrorized not only the Mediterranean Sea, but the Red Sea and the Persian Gulf as well. His one defeat was at the gates of Vienna in 1529.

The Holy League

In a papacy of great achievements, the greatest came on March 7, 1571, on the feast of his fellow Dominican, St. Thomas Aquinas, OP. At the Dominican Church of Santa Maria Sopra Minerva in Rome, Pope Pius formed the Holy League. Genoa, the Papal States, and the Kingdom of Spain put aside their jealousies and pledged to assemble a fleet capable of confronting the sultan’s war galleys before the east coast of Italy became the next front in the war between the Christianity and Islam.

The man chosen by Pius V to serve as Captain General of the Holy League did not falter: Don John of Austria, the illegitimate son of the late Holy Roman Emperor, Charles V, and half-brother of Philip II, King of Spain. The young commander had distinguished himself in combat against Barbary corsairs and in the Morisco rebellion in Spain, a campaign in which he demonstrated his capacity for swift violence when the threat called for it and restraint when charity demanded it.

He was a great horseman, a great swordsman, and a great dancer. With charm, wit, and good looks in abundance, he was popular among the ladies of court. Since childhood he had cultivated a deep devotion to the Blessed Virgin. He spoke Latin, French, Italian, and Spanish, and kept a pet marmoset and a lion cub that slept at the foot of his bed. He was twenty-four years old.

Taking the young warrior by the shoulders, Pius V looked Don John of Austria in the eye and declared, “The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”

The Divine Breath

It was. At dawn on October 7, 1571, the Holy League rowed down the west coast of Greece and turned east into the Gulf of Patras. When the morning mist cleared, the Christians, rowing directly against the wind, saw the squadrons of the larger Ottoman fleet arrayed like a crescent from shore to shore, bearing down on them under full sail.

As the fleets grew closer, the Christians could hear the gongs and cymbals, drums and cries of the Turks. The men of the Holy League quietly pulled at their oars, the soldiers stood on the decks in silent prayer. Priests holding large crucifixes marched up and down the decks exhorting the men to be brave and hearing final confessions.

And, then the Blessed Mother intervened…

Our Lady of Victory,
Victorious daughter of the Father,
Victorious Mother of the Son,
Victorious Spouse of the Holy Spirit,
Victorious servant of the Holy Trinity
Victorious in your Immaculate Conception,
Victorious in crushing the serpent’s head,
Victorious over all the children of Adam,
Victorious over all enemies,
Victorious in your response to the Angel Gabriel,
Victorious in your wedding to St. Joseph,
Victorious in the birth of Christ,
Victorious in the flight to Egypt,
Victorious in your exile,
Victorious in your home at Nazareth,
Victorious in finding Christ in the temple,
Victorious in the mission of your Son,
Victorious in His passion and death,
Victorious in His Resurrection and Ascension,
Victorious in the Coming of the Holy Spirit,
Victorious in your sorrows and joys,
Victorious in your glorious Assumption,
Victorious in the angels who remained faithful,
Victorious in the happiness of the saints,
Victorious in the message of the prophets,
Victorious in the testimony of the patriarchs,
Victorious in the zeal of the apostles,
Victorious in the witness of the evangelists,
Victorious in the wisdom of the doctors,
Victorious in the deeds of the confessors,
Victorious in the triumph of all holy women,
Victorious in the faithfulness of the martyrs,
Victorious in your powerful intercession,
Victorious under your many titles,
Victorious at the moment of death,

Love & Marian victory,
Matthew