But, today we also celebrate the 440th Anniversary of the triumph of the Battle of Lepanto. Stay with me here, this is important! Not just history-major-important, but important to everybody. Today, we celebrate the victory of the Holy League, a loose conglomeration of the Spanish Empire, Venice, Genoa, The Duchy of Savoy, the Papal States and the Knights of Malta, under the command of Don John of Austria (the illegitimate son of Charles V) and supported by Pope Pius V. They joined their naval forces at Messina, Italy, and set off to engage the Ottoman Empire, the greatest naval power of the day. The met in the Gulf of Patras, off the west coast of Greece. The Holy League had 208 ships, mostly Venetian galleys, with 40,000 sailors and oarsmen and 22,800 soldiers, mostly Spanish Infantry. The Ottomans, on the other hand, had 251 ships, of which 206 were galleys, and had a force of 31,490 soldiers and 50,000 sailors/oarsmen. The battle lasted 5 hours. The Holy League lost 17 ships and about 7500 dead. The Ottomans lost 137 ships captured, 50 ships sunk, 20,000 dead,wounded, or captured, and 10,000 Catholic slaves were freed.
I can hear you guys now, "that's nice and all, but what's that got to do with us, why's that so important?" Well let me tell you. The victory of Lepanto saved Europe from almost sure domination by the Muslim armies. The victory meant that the Ottomans could not control the entire Mediterranean Sea. It saved Italy from sure invasion, kept the Ottomans from reconquering Spain, and slowed the Muslim conquest of southern Europe. Essentially, if the Holy League had lost the Battle of Lepanto, you and I would be speaking Arabic and worshiping Allah 5 times a day. Europe would have been a Muslim territory.
The incredible victory, over the world's foremost naval power, was immediately attributed to the intercession of Our Lady of the Rosary. In other words, the Holy League had realized how screwed they were and knew they would need a miracle so they prayed the Rosary a TON before the battle. There was even a Rosary Procession in St. Peter's Square the day of the battle. After the whole ordeal was done, Pope Pius V announced the Feast of Our Lady of Victory, which became Our Lady of the Rosary under Pope Gregory XIII. G.K. Chesterton wrote a great poem about this battle, titled "Lepanto". An exerpt:
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world.Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.Love-light of Spain - hurrah!Death-light of Africa!Don John of AustriaIs riding to the sea.
Something else that may be of interest: The great writer Miguel de Cervantes, who wrote Don Quixote, lost an arm in the battle and was captured by the Turks and enslaved for many years. He wrote Don Quixote upon his return to Spain.
So remember, today, that Our Lady has great influence with her Son. Enough even to change the course of History. Do not hesitate to ask for her intercession.