CHAPTER VII. THE BATTLE OF LEPANTO. (1571.) part 2
The results of international jealousy have been seen in the tragedies of Nicosia and Famagusta. It was possible only to one man to league the jealous nations beneath the standard of the Holy Cross against the power of the Turk; and he sat on St. Peter's throne.
Since his accession St. Pius had been trying to arouse Europe to its danger, but in 1570, to every Court save to England, Cardinal-legates were specially sent to preach a crusade, to beg for ships, men and money. Every Court save that of Spain returned an excuse. Portugal had a valid reason; 1 Poland temporized; France and the Empire made elaborate excuses. 2 Venice, whose very existence was threatened, joined the League, and so did every State in Italy. The Knights of Malta sent literally every man they had. The Holy Pope, sick unto death and in grievous pain, rested neither night nor day, and left no means untried to secure success. What would have happened if craven Christendom had risen en masse ? Doubtless the total destruction of the barbarous Ottoman Empire, which for four centuries had been the scourge of civilization. " One is struck by the extreme difficulty which the Sovereign Pontiff had to form the League; by the brilliant victory; and by the almost immediate rupture of the Christian alliance on the death of the Pope. It all happened like a flash of lightning at night. One can only conclude that God, yielding to the supplication of His Vicar on earth, designed for his sake to save the Christian Nations, but that these did not deserve what was due only to the merits of the Saint. One reads at the same time in the story of Lepanto the mercy and the wrath of God; mercy towards His threatened Church, anger against the sovereigns and the nations given to heresy at the very moment when the prayers of St. Pius snatched them from peril. Two nations were chosen for the combat—Venice and Spain. The others, rejected, were delivered to furious civil and religious wars. What would have happened to France [had she] accepted the mission offered by St. Pius ? God measures His blessings by services rendered."3
To the Spanish 4 and Venetian 5 Ambassadors St. Pius vehemently insisted on the necessity of all national jealousy being laid aside in this Holy War, pointing out the terrible danger that they would otherwise incur. The question of leadership was discussed. Obviously, the chief must be neither Venetian nor Spaniard ! The Duke of Savoy, approached, declared with touching humility that the rival nations would both disapprove of his appointment, and begged to serve as a common soldier. In a moment of inspiration the eyes of the Saint fell on Don Juan of Austria. 6 This young Prince of the Imperial House, who had already distinguished himself in war with the Moors, hastily resigning his governorship, accepted the charge with intense emotion. "Go, my son," was the message sent to him by St. Pius, through the Legate Odescalchi, who was to accompany the expedition : " Go, for I know of a surety God will give you the Victory !"
On 24 May, 7 1571, in Consistory-extraordinary, an offensive and defensive League against the
Turk was signed and sworn to by the Pope, the King of Spain, and the Venetian Republic. The agreement, drawn up with consummate skill, dealt with the supplies to be furnished by each nation, and with the settlement of disputes. The Pope was in everything ,to be final judge. An honourable rank was reserved for the Emperor, and the Kings of France and Portugal if they would join the League at the eleventh hour; and all other Christian Princes were invited.
St. Pius made tremendous sacrifices to obtain money for the expedition. The Papal treasury was emptied. His subjects, rich and poor, followed his example. Dignities were resigned and sold. Twelve great monasteries sent a splendid donation. But St. Pius indignantly rejected the suggestion of the imposition of a super-tax on the people. The offerings were voluntary.
Nor was this the chief part of the preparation. St. Pius ordered the Devotion of the Forty Hours to be extended over three days, with public processions, during which the Rosary was recited. The whole expedition was placed under the protection of the Queen of the Holy Rosary. 8 The devotion was-not only to be practised daily in each ship; the beads of the Rosary were the weapons with which those left at home should storm Heaven for the success of the League. " The holy Pope," writes Cardinal Newman, " had been interesting the Holy Virgin in his cause."
On 21 July, 1571, the Papal fleet sailed for Naples, where it was to meet Don Juan and the allies. It was time to act! The Turks had just captured 15,000 Catholic slaves from Dalmatia (then Venetian), which they had ravaged, together with several islands, and were now masters of the Mediterranean. The Genoese contingent, however, was delayed, and it was not till 14 August, when Famagusta had fallen, that the Cardinal-ambassador of Spain presented Don Juan with the Banner 9 of the League, the gift of St. Pius, in the church of the Poor Clares at Naples.
The fleet was still unfortunately delayed by the weather. The galleys 10 were obliged to wait for a calm. It was not until 16 September that Don Juan, sailing from Messina, finally marshalled his fleet in order to battle. There were six great galeasses 11 and about 250 galleys and smaller vessels. 12 The galeasses were placed in a line in front of the rest of the fleet. Behind them were three squadrons of galleys. Behind these were two other squadrons, with wings to right and left. A strong force was held in reserve, and a few of the swiftest vessels were detached as a flying-squadron, to look out for the enemy. The whole fleet being brought to anchor, the Rosary was devoutly recited, and from the galley " Vittoria " the legate gave the Apostolic Benediction to 65,000 kneeling men. All, before sailing, had approached the sacraments; no bad characters were allowed to join ; and on each ship were religious, as chaplains. It was the ideal of Christian warfare. Here were only "Christian soldiers fighting for the Church
For nearly three weeks they sought the enemy. 13 Early on Sunday morning, 7 October, the two fleets came face to face in the Bay of Lepanto. 14 The splendid Turkish warships, anchored in crescent form, filled with desperate freebooters, greatly outnumbered the Christian host, above which waved the white banner of the Pope. In the luminous pearly haze a couple of Greek islands lay dim upon the horizon, like clouds of rosy gold. The crimson crescent and star of the Mohammedan flag and the gorgeous painted sails made vivid patches of colour against the pale turquoise of the sky, and the shining, rippling water. For three hours the two fleets lay, gazing, it seemed, in admiration at the glorious sight. On each Christian ship the Rosary was recited for the last time, and Our Lady's help earnestly invoked. On each ship a religious gave general absolution, and Don Juan made the round of the fleet, exhorting and cheering his men.
It was the turning-point of the history of Christendom. At that moment there knelt in the Vatican, as he had knelt throughout the preceding night,—as he knelt till all was over—the figure of the aged Pope, worn by fasting, broken by illness, miraculously aware that this was the day which should decide the fate of the world. He prayed, as Aaron the High Priest prayed upon Mount Hor, while throughout the Holy City processions were organized and prayers offered for the success of the Christian arms and a hundred leagues away his people fought—and won.
The wind, which had been against the Christians, suddenly dropped, and the most decisive battle of the world was arrayed. 15 But the intercession of Our Lady and the prayers of the Vicar of Christ prevailed. Though from a human standpoint it is perfectly evident that only Don Juan's clear head and skilful generalship, 16 and (at one supreme moment) the magnificent valour of the Knights of Malta 17 saved the day, the Turks themselves felt that Heaven was against them. The sea was thick with wreck and spar, with wounded and dead. At 430 p.m. the Turks gave way. They had lost 240 ships and 33,000 men, 18 whereas the Catholics had only lost 7000 to 8ooo, and comparatively few vessels. A great storm arose, and completed the destruction, while the victors made for the nearest harbour,19 Their first care was to pray for the dead; their second to send swift messengers to Rome, and the other great cities.
But St. Pius needed no messenger. He was sitting that afternoon in his study with his Pontifical treasurer Busotti when, rising suddenly, he opened a window to the east, and stood for a few moments gazing into the sky. Then: " This is no time to talk of business!" he cried. " Let us thank Almighty God that our army has gained a great victory over the Turks! " and passing through the room, he went to kneel for hours before the Blessed Sacrament.
It was the first Sunday in October, a day since hallowed in the Church as Rosary Sunday. 20 The words of the Holy Pope, immediately written down, repeated to the Cardinals, signed, and sealed, but not published, were not confirmed for a fortnight. It was not until midnight, 21 October, that delayed by storms, a messenger arrived post-haste from the Doge Mocenigo at Venice, bearing the glorious tidings, Rome went mad with joy. When Don Juan 21 followed, not long after, to kneel at the feet of the Saint on his way to King Philip, a splendid " Triumph " was prepared for him. St. Pius presented him with a beautiful buckler of wrought and beaten iron, on which was a crucifix, with the glorious motto: "Christus vincit: Christus regnat : Christus imperat
To Colonna, the Papal commander, another great reception was given. Throughout, the rejoicings took the form of Masses of thanksgiving, solemn Te Deums, and processions, so thoroughly had the spirit of St Pius permeated the people; so entirely did they realize that the victory was of God, through His Blessed Mother and His Vicar on earth. Venice, Spain, Genoa, all Italy rejoiced together.
And what of Malta ? An old Dominican chronicler answers the question. As all that remained of the Maltese fleet neared Valetta, the Bishop, the Grand Master, the clergy,—the entire population, went down the precipitous streets to the water's-edge to receive their heroes. The cannon roared and thundered in the Barracca above them as the ships were moored to the great quay. "At the sight of those mutilated ships, half-mended in haste, those empty decks lately packed thick with red uniforms, and those mourning flags which meant so many dead, there fell a great silence. Every heart was wrung. The Knights disembark,—they are counted, one by one,—there are not thirty. Calabrian sailors bring in the arms of the dead, with those of two generals, wrapped in black. It is a long procession. Suddenly a woman breaks the tension by a shriek—it is echoed by a great cry from princes, people and clergy, and all fall on their knees as the glorious holocaust which had saved the Christian army, passes on, and the cannon thunder overheard. But not one complains."
They sang Te Deum in the Cathedral of St. John before the thirty survivors—before the pile of arms, covered with black. Only the women had not the courage to enter, or to sing. Turning on the steps of the church the Grand Master said to them: "We go to thank God that Malta has done her duty !—go you, poor children, and weep! "
Such were the heroes, such the victory, of Our Lady Help of Christians I As we invoke her at Benediction by that sweetest of her titles let us thank God for St. Pius, who gave it to her, and who now prays for his people, in Heaven; let us sometimes remember Lepanto, as we sing: "Auxilium Christianorum ora pro nobis ".
1 Her fleet was decimated by plague, and the Moorish pirates.
3 M. Herve Bazin.
4 Cardinals Granville and Pacheco.
6 His father was Charles V. He was at this time only twenty-four.
7 24 May is now observed as the Feast of Our Lady. Help of Christians.
8 By the the Bull " Consueverunt" (17 Sept., 1569) the recitation of the Rosary was enjoined on the faithful, against heresy and infidelity, by the Dominican Pope.
9 It was of white satin, richly embroidered; on the right, a crucifix; on the left the pontifical arms, between those of Spain and Venice. Beneath the crossed keys of St. Peter was the scutcheon of Don Juan.
10 Ships manned by hundreds of rowers,—either slaves, convicts, or volunteers to whom a small salary was paid.
11 A sort of floating fort, impenetrable to ordinary bullets. They carried cannon, and were designed to sustain the first shock of an attack.
12 The numbers of both fleets vary slightly. Those given are taken from P. Farochon's Chypre et Lepante, which tells the whole story in fascinating detail.
13 The Spaniards counselled caution. The Venetians were wild to avenge their losses.
14 Off the coast of Greece, near Cephalonia and Zante.
15 Even non-Catholic writers do not hesitate to compare Lepanto and Salamis.
16 His plan of battle is universally admitted to have been " a miracle of skill ".
17 To repair an error of the Venetian admiral's they allowed themselves to be cut to pieces, to save a squadron, in a charge as glorious and as hopeless as that of Balaclava. Each fleet had its own commander, over whom Don Juan was supreme.
18 Out of a fleet of 290 warships and 85,000 to 88,000 men. The forces were in the proportion of about four to three.
19 Among them were two great-nephews of St. Pius.
20 The first Sunday in October was appointed to be observed as the Feast of Our Lady, Queen of the Holy Rosary, in memory of Lepanto, by Pope Gregory XIII, successor of St. Pius, 1 April, 1573.
21 This young Prince, who died before he was 31, would gladly have continued the campaign, but Venetian jealousy prevented it. (Not long after the Serene Republic made a truce with the Turks !) St. Pius greeted Don Juan with the words he had uttered on his appointment: "Fuit homo missus a Deo, cut nomen Joannes ".