By the mid-16th century, Christian Europe was in shambles. The Protestant Revolt had caused a spiritual and political earthquake throughout the West. Europe’s leaders were occupied with internal wars and colonial expeditions in the New World.
All this disunity and distraction was not lost on the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks had been a powerful threat to Christendom since the 1300s and were ramming the doors of the West once again, trying to gain a foothold through the Mediterranean.
Pope St. Pius V was one of the only rulers to recognize the growing threat. He desperately tried to get Europe’s monarchs to do something. But they were caught up in their own affairs, and few responded to his pleas.
However, Philip II of Spain did send his half-brother, Don Juan of Austria, with dozens of ships. Other volunteers joined, and a force—called the Holy League—consisting of ships and men from Spain, Venice, the Papal States, and other parts of Italy was cobbled together. Included among the ships were vessels called galleasses with innovative side-mounted guns, which would prove invaluable to the fight.
But the greatest contributions were not in troops or weapons. Hearing of the situation overseas, the Archbishop of Mexico commissioned a copy of the miraculous image of Our Lady of Guadalupe and touched it to the original. He sent it to Philip II with instructions to mount it on one of the ships. This was done.
Pius V then asked all of Christian Europe to pray the Rosary for the success of the offensive. The men of the Holy League prayed it, too, each man being given a set of rosary beads before they set sail from Sicily.
The Christian fleet met the Ottomans near the Gulf of Corinth on October 7th, 1571. The wind was against the Christians at first, but it switched direction somehow, and blew them right where they needed to be.
It was a bloody and costly battle for both sides, but in the early afternoon, the Holy League claimed victory for Our Lady. It was the last time that the Turks would seriously threaten Christian Europe from the Mediterranean.
On October 7th of the following year, Pope Pius V instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory in thanksgiving for her intercession. His successor, Gregory XIII, renamed it the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary—the same feast that we celebrate today.
You can dive into the Battle of Lepanto and many more exciting tales in Ten Dates Every Catholic Should Know, a fascinating journey through some of the most crucial moments in the history of both the Church and the world—and the active role God has played in them. Pick up your copy today!