On the 7th of October in the year 1571 was fought the great battle of Lepanto—a battle upon which depended the freedom of the whole Christian world, for had it been won by the Turks, they would, for a time at least, have overrun the whole of Europe.
These Turks, who were followers of the false prophet Mahomet, hated Christians with a deadly hatred, and their great desire was to keep possession of the Holy Land, which is that part of Asia where our Saviour lived, suffered, and died, and is therefore very dear to Christian hearts.
From time to time the Christians of different countries had fought bravely to recover this dear land, and had sometimes held it, and then again the Turks would get it back into their possession; and thus it went on for centuries. Many of you have studies about these holy wars which were called Crusades, and were carried on by men, who, though of different countries and different interests, had but one object in view when they started out as Crusaders.
Do you remember Godfrey de Bouillon and Tancred? —their names were great among the early Crusaders.
Well, brave as they were, and nobly as they fought, centuries went on and still the Turks were not conquered, and to the alarm of the people of Europe, their power was increasing; they were ever taking countries governed by Christian kings.
Things were in this dreadful condition just before the great battle of which we have spoken was fought, and it was, as you have already guessed, a battle between the Turks and Christians. The Pope at this time was Pius V., a holy Dominican, who is now a canonized saint.
Though this great Pope had many cares and troubles, he saw the great danger in allowing the Turks to increase their possessions. He determined, therefore, to make one more stand against them. He knew that the difficulties would be great, and to add to them, those who should have assisted would not enter the league which the good Pope was forming in order to save Christendom. Germany and England would not help; France could not; and so all the fighting was left to the men of that part of Italy under the Pope, called the Papal States, and to Venice and Spain. Don John, who was an Austrian, was made General, and a commander named Colonna was placed at the head of the navy.
Even during these preparations, the people of Europe did not seem to understand the danger which threatened them. They quarreled with one another, instead of banding together against the Turks, who had taken the Island of Cyprus, and butchered priests and people. In spite of these sad events, and the little encouragement given to him, the Holy Father never despaired, but placed all his hope in prayer, and in the assistance of our dear Lady, the Queen of Heaven. While everything was done by this holy pontiff to gain our Lord's favor, the men started forth to battle, with the blessing of St. Pius. They set sail for Corfu, which is a Grecian island in the Ionian Sea, but failing to meet the Turks here, they went back, and sailed up the Gulf of Corinth, and when nearly to Lepanto, a town in Greece, situated on the Bay of Lepanto, the Christians met the Turkish fleet, and the great battle of Lepanto began.
The emblem on the Christian's flag was the cross; that on the Turk's flag was the crescent, and for many dreadful hours it was doubtful which would be waving when the battle was done. The blood of Christian and Turk flowed like water. The decks of the vessels were wet with it, and strewn with the bodies of the dead and dying. The shout of battle mingled with groans and prayers, and the scene was one of horrible bloodshed; but when the shades of evening began to fall upon the sea, high in air, clear and bright against the blue of the sky, hung a banner, and upon it was a gold embroidered cross. The battle of Lepanto was over; the Christians had won it!
This memorable day, Rosary Sunday, had been spent by St. Pius and his people in most earnest prayer for the success of God's cause. The children of the Rosary marched in procession, singing hymns in our Lady's honor, and before the day was over, while the Rosary devotions still continued, the good Pope knew by inspiration that the prayers of the faithful had been answered by the Blessed Queen of Heaven.
As an act of gratitude and thanksgiving, St. Pius instituted the feast of our Lady of Victory, and later, Pope Gregory XIII., in commemoration of the great triumph, dedicated the first Sunday of October to our Lady of the Rosary. This beautiful feast is now kept throughout the Catholic world.
So, when you see the Rosary procession on the first Sunday of October, or should you have the happiness of joining in it, remember that it was instituted in gratitude to our Lady for the victory won, through her intercession, by the Christians over the Turks at the great battle of Lepanto, over 450 years ago.
~ from an article in an 1897 issue of "Rosary Magazine"
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