" The Turkish successes," says Cardinal Newman, " began in the middle of the eleventh century. They ended in the sixteenth. Selim the Sot came to the throne of Othman, and St. Pius V to the throne of the Apostle " (1566).
Soliman II, the Magnificent, had reigned from 1520-66. Under his sway the Turkish dominions in Asia, Africa, and Europe had increased alarmingly. The capture of Tripoli, and the defeat of two fleets sent against him by Charles V had given rise to the saying: "If the Turk is terrible by land he is invincible by sea". The Sultan possessed the most formidable fleet, and in the Janissaries 1 the finest body of infantry in the world. Since the resignation of Charles V in 1555 no European monarch had been found great enough to overawe him. His first check was at Malta, in 1565. Besieged by 260 warships, the Grand Master of the Knights of St. John, La Valette, could only defend the island with magnificent courage ; he could not attack the enemy. It was not until a sustained siege had closed with twenty-two consecutive attacks that the Turks were driven away. But the victory was dearly bought, for the gallant defenders, having neither money nor men to repair the ruined defences, decided to abandon Malta altogether.
St. Pius, however, would not suffer this. In a letter dated 22 March, 1566, he commanded the heroes to remain at this outpost of Christendom, sending to La Valette at the same time 5 7,000 golden crowns, and promising 4000 crowns monthly to the rebuilding of the ruins. The Knights kissed the Brief. " Hic Domus, hie requies mea!" they cried, —and Malta was saved. England to-day owes Valetta—the new city built by the Pope's bounty —to St. Pius. Six days later the first stone was laid by the hero from whom it takes its name.
Soliman, angry at his rebuff, now appeared before Chios 2 with 130,000 men in a fleet of 140 galleys. Explaining his presence by a very futile excuse, he immediately invited the governor, Giustiniani, and his council, to a banquet on board his own ship. It was Easter, and though they had all made their duties, the doomed guests, certain of treachery, again went to confession. The moment they were all on the Sultan's ship each was murdered. Giustiniani's last words were : " O Lord, accept our lives, but spare this Christian nation! " But Chios was not spared. The city was sacked, and all the inhabitants massacred. The Church of St. Dominic was turned into a mosque; the Cathedral of San Pietro was utterly destroyed. The aged bishop 3 rushed to the altar to defend the Blessed Sacrament, as the Turks entered the church. " Is this thy God ? " blasphemously cried the captain; 4 "He is at least worth 200 ducats, with His pearl decorations!" Seizing the ciborium, he was about to empty the Sacred Hosts on the ground and trample on them (though the. bishop begged him to slay him on the spot rather than thus offend Almighty God), when he was prevented by his own officers.
Two children 5 of the Giustiniani family were beaten to death. The younger, almost cut to pieces, was offered life if he would hold up one finger— the Mohammedan symbol of faith. 6 He clenched both hands so tight that they could not be opened after his death. The massacres lasted three days. Chios was left, a pile of corpses and smoking ruins.
But the tyrant's hour was come. He had dispatched 90,000 men into Hungary, where after many successes he had laid siege to Szigeth. St. Pius, whose heart was wrung by the tragedy of Chios, ordered the Forty Hours' Devotion in Rome, with public prayers, and three great processions, in which he himself took part. " I fear the prayers of the Pope much more than I do the arms of his soldiers!" remarked Soliman, with great reason, when he heard of these arrangements. On the day of the third procession the Sultan died! Szigeth fell three days later, having resisted to the last drop of its blood; but the Janissaries were obliged to hasten to salute the new Sultan; Vienna was spared; Austria was saved!
The Sultan Soliman II was succeeded by his son, Selim the Sot, whose great ambition was the conquest of Italy and the destruction of Christianity. He proceeded with all speed to pick a quarrel with Venice. Cyprus, the most important island in the Mediterranean, belonged to the Serene Republic, 7 which had offered an asylum there to the refugees from the siege of Malta. On 13 September, 1569, a terrible catastrophe occurred: the arsenal of Venice was blown up. The shock was felt at Treviso and Padua, where it was thought to be an earthquake. 8 The city had not time to recover from this disaster when Selim insolently sent to demand the instant cession of Cyprus, as forming part of his Egyptian conquests. The Venetians, who happened to have a commercial treaty with the Turk, replied indignantly that this was bad faith; and the red flag floated over San Marco! Meanwhile extraordinary effort was made to rebuild and restock the arsenal. Family jewels and treasures were sold, taxes were joyfully paid, and the noblest patricians worked like labourers on the new building, while their wives and daughters brought them food. The Signory appealed frantically to the Pope.
St. Pius did not fail his people. The enemy was at their gates. At his prayer Philip of Spain 9 furnished a small fleet, which with the ships presented by the Pope and the Venetian contingent was ordered to proceed to Cyprus immediately, under the Venetian admiral, Dandolo; and on Sunday, 14 June, 1570, St. Pius, after High Mass, solemnly blessed the standard 10 of the pontifical troops, and presented it.
Alas! through the insane pride and obstinacy of Dandolo and the ceaseless dissensions between the rival Powers, Venice and Spain, the campaign was unsuccessful from the first. The Pope's idea of a Holy War seemed forgotten. To us, looking back, it seems extraordinary that, when the safety, not only of Christendom, but of all civilisation was at stake, and Europe was threatened by the power of the Turk, foolish quarrels and trivial jealousies about precedence should have ceaselessly imperilled the existence of the Holy League.
Meanwhile Nicosia, the capital of Cyprus, besieged by a huge Turkish force, was reduced to extremities. 11 But the Christian fleet, now in the harbour of Suda, did nothing. Dandolo had felt bound to oppose those who wished to attack the Turks immediately. " Let them all perish rather than a man disobey me!" he cried when the Spanish general demurred. But only the Pontifical and Maltese troops were anxious to fight. Dandolo, after some delay, ordered the fleet to Famagusta, a town defended by the glorious hero Bragadino, and a few other noble Venetians. " It is vain!" he replied to Dandolo's overtures; " you have lost Famagusta, and will not save Nicosia!" It was too true. Dandolo set sail for Nicosia, where he ordered a skirmishing attack to be made on the Turks. In this action he paid for his insensate folly with his life. It was the pride as well as the avarice of her sons which eventually brought about the ruin of Venice.
On 8 September the Turkish commander Mustapha made a final attack upon the doomed city. Nicosia was sacked, and 20,000 persons, including the Dominican Bishop Amalthi 12 massacred. The Turks made a huge pile of corpses, which they surrounded with beams and broken wood, tying to stakes above it the wounded, and any left alive; set fire to the whole, and joining hands, danced around it, crying to the Catholics to call on their Christ to save them. This lasted for eight days, amid orgies indescribable. Four ships of the fleet were filled with treasure, and crowded with 1ooo women and children, to be sold as slaves. One heroic girl followed a soldier secretly into the powder-magazine, threw a light into the nearest barrel, and the next moment the ship and its hapless freight had perished in the explosion. All four ships were destroyed, so great was the shock, and all the slaves, and 2000 Turks killed.
Still more awful was the fate of Famagusta. During the blockade which lasted from 16 September, 1570, till the following summer the new Venetian commander 13 had succeeded in reinforcing the garrison and in sending in supplies. On 30 June, 1571, a sharp skirmish took place; 3000 Janissaries were killed, and Mustapha, furious, swore to take Famagusta or perish. The Bishop (Raggazzoni), a Venetian Dominican escaped, and fled to Venice for help. Admitted to the presence of the terrible Council, he complained bitterly of the folly which had lost Nicosia, and of the slowness in succouring Famagusta. He asked for ships. " What else do you want ?" sneered the Council, which did not approve of this outspokenness. " Six bastions 14 in good condition," replied the intrepid friar; "health for those who have lost it, and ten thousand measures of fresh blood to repair the strength of the wounded, from whom it is still flowing!" The Council, furious, ordered "Fra Hieronymo" back to his monastery, with the significant intimation that it would be better for his health to remain there!
But its members were again braved by the wife of an officer in Famagusta, who with a crowd of ladies invaded the Council-chamber, swearing that unless Venice came to the rescue of Cyprus she would raise Corsica—her native country—against the Republic! At last a reinforcement was sent— too late!
Seven thousand soldiers, under Bragadino* had sustained the siege magnificently for ten months. The Turkish attacks were always repulsed, and at last Mustapha offered honourable terms if the garrison would capitulate. There was no food left in the City—the men were dying of starvation. They must have wondered sometimes what Venice was doing. Bragadino accepted, and on 3 August, -1571, Famagusta was evacuated. Three days later Mustapha ostentatiously broke an article of the treaty, and on Bragadino's remonstrance, ordered a general massacre. The other Venetian officers were immediately executed. Bragadino's ears and nose were cut off, his nails torn out, and his teeth broken; he was stripped, flogged most cruelly, paraded on an ass through the streets of the town with an old sack over his shoulders, and then forced to work like a slave at his own fortifications. This continued for twelve days in the blazing sun, the martyr being often cruelly beaten. At the end, he was flayed alive, Mustapha standing by and crying: " Come, where is your God now ? " Bragadino recited the " Miserere " in a clear voice, throughout his torments. They were but half-ended, when as he said, " Cor mundum crea in me, Deus" it failed, and ceased. The martyr had entered into the joy of his Lord. 15
These terrible pages from European history convey to us some faint idea of the meaning of a Turkish invasion of Christendom. Rome was to share the fate of Nicosia; all Christian princes that of Bragadino. Yet the only person fully awake even now to this appalling danger was St. Pius. " The Saint found it impossible to move Christendom to its own defence. How indeed was this to # be done when Christendom was [leavened with] Protestantism, and secretly perhaps felt, as the Greeks felt, that the Turk was its friend and ally ? " 16
1 The Janissaries, of whom there were 30,000 to 32,000, were abolished (by massacre) in 1826.
2 An island in the Greek Archipelago, sold to the Genoese by the Emperor Constantine; and a great centre of commerce.
3 Timoteo Giustiniani, O.P.
4 A renegade Jew. There were many among the Turks.
5 Aged ten and twelve. The Giustiniani had always been renowned for heroism. On this occasion twenty-one of the family were martyred. Touron places the massacre at Constantinople (IV, 299).
6 As a protest against the doctrine of the Holy Trinity, the most hated Catholic dogma.
7 Through Caterina Cornaro, a noble Venetian lady, who had married the last King of Cyprus, Jacques de Lusignan (d. 1473).
8 The Grand Canal rose several feet, entering the palaces, some of which fell down. " Une ruyne si espouvantable qu'ung chacun se creust venu au jour du grand et ultime jugement." It was the work of a renegade Jew, Miguel, who formerly when fleeing from justice had been sheltered at Chioggia, and so was acquainted with Venice and her arsenal.
9 The other Catholic monarchs excused themselves. France had less to lose by the Turk, and the Emperor was terrified at offending the Sultan.
10 It was of crimson silk, bearing a great crucifix richly wrought, the Apostles Peter and Paul on either hand, and the motto: " In hoc signo vinces".
11 lt had a great wall, 11 bastions, 3 gates, 200 pieces of great artillery. Eighty of its 365 churches (including the magnificent monastery of Lusignan, where were the tombs of the Kings of Jerusalem and Cyprus, 16 archbishops and 200 monks) had been pitilessly levelled to strengthened the defences. All was vain !
12 Touron IV, 382.
14 Strong forts.
15 17 August, 1571. His skin, stuffed with straw was tied on the back of a cow and paraded through the city he had so gloriously defended. It was then sent to Selim as a trophy, and was displayed at Constantinople to terrorize the thousands of Christian slaves in that city, but was finally rescued, and restored to his native Venice—which had betrayed him. The relic was placed in a magnificent tomb in the great Dominican Church of SS. Giovanni e Paolo—" the Venetian Westminster Abbey "—where it still remains.
16 It is instructive to notice that Elizabeth, in her negotiations with the Porte, styles herself: Vera fidei contra idolatras falso Christi nomen profitentes invicta et potentissima propugnatrix ! " The Turk, however, was under no delusion ! The Grand Vizier observed derisively to the Imperial Ambassador that the English wanted now nothing to be true Moslems but the raising of one finger on high, and the cry: "There is One God I" (Hammer, "Osmanges-chichte," bk. iv. s. 208). A common hatred of the Pope and the King of Spain soon cemented the alliance between England and the Turk, though Harburn (Elizabeth's agent) tried in vain to persuade the Turks to attack Spain at the time of the Armada. In 1578 Harburn presented himself to Sultan Amarath III with a letter from Queen Elizabeth, begging his friendship, and permission to trade in the Mediterranean under her own flag. The Porte "did not deign" to reply till 1583 (Dyer, "Modern Europe," XXVII, bk. in. pp. 90-91).