Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Our Lady of Victory

Today’s feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was originally also known as Our lady of Victory and commemorates Christian Europe’s decisive naval victory over the Muslim Ottomans in the Gulf of Lepanto on this date in 1571, which definitively ended the perennial danger of Muslim domination of the Mediterranean. As the naval coalition of southern European Catholic seafaring states, known as the Holy League, set sail to face the powerful Turkish fleet, Pope Saint Pius V, appreciating the Ottomans’ military advantage, called upon the faithful to pray the Rosary and himself led a Rosary Procession in the city of Rome. Attributing the ensuing Christian victory to Our Lady’s intercession, Pius instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory – later renamed the feast of the Most Holy Rosary of the Blessed Virgin Mary and now known as Our Lady of the Rosary. Growing up, I really never acquired an adequate attraction to the Rosary as a form of personal prayer, but the lesson of Lepanto certainly stuck with me.

A decade after Lepanto, there would be one further Ottoman assault on Europe by land , leading to the final Christian victory at the Battle of Vienna, after which the Ottoman Empire’s story would be one of slow but inexorable decline leading to definitive defeat in World War I. For 400 years, from the late 16th century on, the West would experience successes and setbacks of all sorts, but not until the late 20th century would Muslim militancy again threaten the Christian (and increasingly post-Christian) Western world.

Then as now, the the 16th century Islamist threat was a very serious one indeed. “”Modern historians examining contemporary comment produce reliable estimates that Islamic raiders enslaved around a million western Christian Europeans between 1530 and 1640; this dwarfs the contemporary slave traffic in the other direction, and is about equivalent to the numbers of West Africans taken by Christian Europeans across the Atlantic at the same time.” (Diarmaid MacCulloch, The Reformation, 2004, p. 55). 

And abductions and enslavements are still with us in conflicts with Islamist groups in the Middle East and Africa. It almost boggles the mind at times how little seems to change!

Meanwhile, the Rosary remains as one of the greatest popular devotions ever developed. 

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