Pope St. Pius V
The Great Victory of Lepanto
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Fr. Alban Butler's Lives of the Saints
Selimus II, Emperor of the Turks, pursing the ambitious and boundless designs of his father Solyman, proposed nothing less to himself than to overrun all Christendom with his arms, and to add all the western kingdoms to his empire.
Though he was himself an effeminate tyrant, enervated by drunkenness and debauchereies, he was long successful in his wars, by the conduct of veteran soldiers and experienced generals, who had been trained up by his warlike father. Flushed up with victories and elated with pride, when Italy was afflicted with a famine, and the great arsenal of Venice had been lately almost wiped out by a dreadful fire, he haughtily demanded off that republic the peaceful surrender of the isle of Cyprus, by way of satisfaction for pretended injuries; though in reality for the sake of its excellent wine, with which liquor he was extremely besotted, though forbidden by the Koran, threatening that in case of refusal he would force it from them.
Having all things in readiness before hand, the infidels immediately invaded the island, took Nicosia by storm, in 1570, after a siege of forty-eight days, and in 1571, Famagusta by capitulation, after having battered that city with above one million, five hundred thousand cannon-shot, during a siege of seventy-five days.
Notwithstanding the articles of an honourable capitulation that had been ratified by the most solemn oaths, the Bashaw Mustapha, by an unheard of treacherous perfidy, put to most cruel deaths all the brave Venetian officers of the place; and caused the valiant Venetian governor, Brigadin, after cutting off his ears and nose, with a thousand insults, blasphemies, and torments continued or repeated for many days, to be flayed alive in the marketplace; all of which he suffered with admirable patience, and in great sentiments of piety, expiring when his skin was torn off to his waist.
Alarmed at the danger which threatened all Christendom, St. Pius entered into a league with Philip II, King of Spain, and the Venetians, in order to check the progress of the Mahometans; the other Christian princes excusing themselves from acceding to it, on account of domestic broils. This alliance was ratified in May, 1571; and to avoid occasions of dissension among the princes that were engaged, the pope was declared chief of the league and expedition, who appointed Mark Antony Colonna general of his galleys, and Don John of Austria generalissimo of all the forces.
The army consisted of twenty thousand good soldiers, besides seamen; and the fleet of one hundred and one great galleys, some tall ships, and a considerable mumber of galliots and small vessels.
The pope, together with his apostolic benediction, sent to the general a prediction of certain victory, with an order to disband all soldiers who seemed to go only for the sake of plunder, and all scandalous and riotous persons, whose crimes might draw down the divine indignation upon their arms.
The Christians sailed directly from Corfu, and found the Turkish fleet at anchor in the harbour of Lepanto. As soon as the Turks saw the Christian fleet so near, they reinforced their troops from the land, and sailed out in order of battle.
Don John kept the centre, and had for seconds, Colonna and the Venetian general, Venieri; Andrew Doria commanded the right wing, and Austin Barbarigo the left. Peter Justiniani, who commanded the galleys of Malta, and Paul Jourdain were posted at the extremities of the line. The Marquess of Sainte Croix had a body of reserve of sixty vessels ready to sustain or relieve any part in danger of being overpowered. John of Cordova, with a squadron of eight vessles, scoured before, to spy and give intelligence; and six Venetian galeasses formed an avant-guard to the fleet.
A little after sunrise, the Turkish fleet, consisting of three hundred and thirty sail of all sorts, appeared in sight, almost in the same order of battle, only, according to their custom, in form of a crescent. They had no squadron of reserve, and therefore their line being much wider, they far outfronted the Christians, which is a great advantage in battle. Hali was in the centre, facing Don John of Austria; Petauch was his second; Louchali and Siroch commanded the two wings, against Doria and Barbarigo.
Don John gave the signal of battle, by hanging out the banner sent him from the pope, on which the image of Christ crucified was embroidered. The Christian generals harangued their soldiers in few words, them made a sign for prayers; at which the soldiers fell on their knees before a crucifix, and continued in that posture in fervent prayer till the fleets drew near to each other, when at a second signal the battle began.
The Turks bore down with great rapidity on the Christians, being assisted by a brisk gale of wind, which promised them the greatest advantage possible, especially as they were superior in numbers, and in the extent of their front. But the wind, which before was very strong, fell just as the fight began, was succeeded by a calm, and this soon after by a high wind, entirely favourable to the Christians; which carried the smoke and fire of their artillery upon the enemy, almost blinded them, and at length quite bore them down. The battle was most obstinate and bloody, and the victory the most complete that ever was gained over the Ottoman empire.
After thre hours' fight, with equal advantage, the left wing, commanded by Barbarigo, got the better, and sunk the galley which Siroch was in, who had fought to admiration. His loss so dispirited his squadron, that, being vigorously pressed by the Venetians, it gave way, and made towards the coast.
Don John, seeing this advantage of his right wing, was animated with new courage, doubled his fire, and killed Hali, the Turkish general, boarded his galley, pulled down his flag, and cried, Victory; after which it was no longer a fight, but a perfect slaughter in the centre; the Turks suffering themselves to be killed without making any resistance.
Louchali, indeed, by his numbers and wider front, kept Doria and the right wing at a distance, till the Marquess of Sainte Croix coming up to join him the Turk made all the sail he could, and escaped by flight, with thirty galleys, all the rest being either taken or sunk1
This battle was fought on the 7th of October, 1571, and continued from about six in the morning till evening, when the approaching darkeness and the roughness of the sea obliged the Christians to betake themselves to the next havens.
The Turks with their haughty emperor, were seized with the utmost consternation at the news of their dreadful overthrow; and the city of Constantinople was as much alarmed as if the enemy had been at the gates; many of the inhabitants carried their treasures to the Christians to keep for them, as if the town had been already in their hands.
The infidels, who, elated by their rapid conquests in the East, had already swallowed up, in their imagination, Italy, and all the rest of Christendom, were taught by this defeat that the tide of their victories was stemmed.
God, who has set bounds to the raging billows of the seas, and who weighs in his hand the globe of the universe as a grain of sand, fixes limits to states and empires, and governs their revolutions. By abandoning many flourishing nations to the infidels, he has given a terrible instance of his justice, by which he admonishes others whom he has hitherto spared, though perhaps more guilty, to fear his anger, and by sincere repentance to sue for mercy, whilst it is yet offered to them. It is owing to this clemency towards the remaining part of Christendom, that he bridled the fury of these most fierce and barbarous infidels, in the very height of their pride and prosperity. From that time onwards, the Turks have gradually weakened themselves by their own domestic policy and have at present reason to dread the arms of those Christian powers, to whom their very name was formerly a terror.
In the battle at Lepanto, the infidels lost thirty thousand men, with their general, Hali, and above two hundred ships and galleys, besides ninety that were stranded, burnt or sunk. There were taken one hundred and sixteen pieces of great cannon, two hundred and fifty-six smaller, and five thousand prisoners, with a great number of officers of rank, among whom were two sons of Hali, nephews to the grand signior. The booty was exceeding great; for the Turkish fleet was laden with the plunder of many merchantmen, and of several islands; fifteen thousand slaves, that were found chained on board their galleys were set at liberty.
The holy pope, from the beginning of the expedition, had ordered public prayers and fasts, and had not ceased to solicit heaven, with uplifted hands, like Moses on the mountain, besides afflicting his body by watching and fasting. At the hour of the battle, the procession of the Rosary, in the church at the Minerva, was pouring forth solemn prayers of the victory. The pope was then conversing with some cardinals on business; but, on a sudden, left them abruptly, opened the window, stood some time with his eyes fixed on the heavens, and then shutting the casement, said, "It is not now a time to talk any more upon business; but to give thanks to God for the victory he has granted to the arms of the Christians."
This fact was carefully attested, and authenically recorded both at that time, and again in the process of the saint's canonization. 2
In consequence of this miraculous victory, the pope ordered the festival of the Rosary to be kept on the first Sunday of October, in perpetual thanksgiving ot God, and in the litany of our Lady inserted those words, "succour of Christians."
He caused a triumph be decreed Don John, which was graced with many illustrious prisoners; and he bestowed honours and gratifications on other generals and officers. The year following he was preparing to pursue the advantage gained by this great victory, when he died of the stone, on the 1st of May, 1572, being sixty-eight years, thre months and fifteen days old, having governed the church six years and almost four months. He had suffered from January the sharpest pains with heroic patience. He was beatified by Clement X in 1672, and canonized by Clement XI in 1712. His precious remains lie in the church of St. Mary Major. Many miracles are recorded in Gabutius. Henschenius has added a relation of many others approved by the auditors of the Rota under Urban VIII in 1629. 3
. Gratiani's History of Cyprus
. Cardinal Lambertini, (afterwards Pope Benedict XIV), Beatif. and Canoniz. Sanctor.
t. i. p. 524.
. Bolland. t. i. Maij. pp. 714, 719.
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