October 7, 1571: Battle of Lepanto


“The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!”

Pope Pius V to Don Juan of Austria




On October 7, 1571, four hundred and forty-five years ago, the forces of the Holy League under Don Juan of Austria, illegitimate half brother of Philip II, in an ever-lasting tribute to Italian and Spanish courage and seamanship, smashed the Turkish fleet.  This was the turning point in the centuries-long struggle between the Christian West and the forces of the Ottoman Empire over the Mediterranean.  The Holy League had been the work of Pope Saint Pius V, who miraculously saw the victory in Rome on the day of the battle, and he proclaimed the feast day of Our Lady of Victory to whom he attributed the victory.

For a good overview of the battle of Lepanto read this review by Victor Davis Hanson here of  The Victory of the West: The Great Christian-Muslim Clash at the Battle of Lepanto by Niccolò Capponi.

Before the battle Don John of Austria went about the ships of his fleet and said this to his crews:  ‘My children, we are here to conquer or die. In death or in victory, you will win immortality.’  The chaplains of the fleet preached sermons on the theme:  “No Heaven For Cowards”.    Many of the men were clutching rosaries just before the battle.  Admiral Andrea Doria went into the fight with an image of Our Lady of Guadalupe aboard his ship.  Back in Europe countless Catholics were praying rosaries at the request of Saint Pope Pius V for the success of the Christian fleet.

At the hour of the battle, and this fact is very well attested, the Pope was talking to some cardinals in Rome.  He abruptly ceased the conversation, opened a window and looked heavenward.  He then turned to the cardinals and 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.”  So that Catholics would never forget Lepanto and the intercession of Mary, he instituted the feast of Our Lady of Victory.  To aid in this remembrance G. K. Chesterton in 1911 wrote his epic poem Lepanto:

White founts falling in the courts of the sun,
And the Soldan of Byzantium is smiling as they run;
There is laughter like the fountains in that face of all men feared,
It stirs the forest darkness, the darkness of his beard,
It curls the blood-red crescent, the crescent of his lips,
For the inmost sea of all the earth is shaken with his ships.
They have dared the white republics up the capes of Italy,
They have dashed the Adriatic round the Lion of the Sea,
And the Pope has cast his arms abroad for agony and loss,
And called the kings of Christendom for swords about the Cross,
The cold queen of England is looking in the glass;
The shadow of the Valois is yawning at the Mass;
From evening isles fantastical rings faint the Spanish gun,
And the Lord upon the Golden Horn is laughing in the sun.

Dim drums throbbing, in the hills half heard,
Where only on a nameless throne a crownless prince has stirred,
Where, risen from a doubtful seat and half attainted stall,
The last knight of Europe takes weapons from the wall,
The last and lingering troubadour to whom the bird has sung,
That once went singing southward when all the world was young,
In that enormous silence, tiny and unafraid,
Comes up along a winding road the noise of the Crusade.
Strong gongs groaning as the guns boom far,
Don John of Austria is going to the war,
Stiff flags straining in the night-blasts cold
In the gloom black-purple, in the glint old-gold,
Torchlight crimson on the copper kettle-drums,
Then the tuckets, then the trumpets, then the cannon, and he comes.
Don John laughing in the brave beard curled,
Spurning of his stirrups like the thrones of all the world,
Holding his head up for a flag of all the free.
Love-light of Spain—hurrah!
Death-light of Africa!
Don John of Austria
Is riding to the sea.
Mahound is in his paradise above the evening star,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
He moves a mighty turban on the timeless houri’s knees,
His turban that is woven of the sunset and the seas.
He shakes the peacock gardens as he rises from his ease,
And he strides among the tree-tops and is taller than the trees,
And his voice through all the garden is a thunder sent to bring
Black Azrael and Ariel and Ammon on the wing.
Giants and the Genii,
Multiplex of wing and eye,
Whose strong obedience broke the sky
When Solomon was king.
They rush in red and purple from the red clouds of the morn,
From temples where the yellow gods shut up their eyes in scorn;
They rise in green robes roaring from the green hells of the sea
Where fallen skies and evil hues and eyeless creatures be;
On them the sea-valves cluster and the grey sea-forests curl,
Splashed with a splendid sickness, the sickness of the pearl;
They swell in sapphire smoke out of the blue cracks of the ground,—
They gather and they wonder and give worship to Mahound.
And he saith, “Break up the mountains where the hermit-folk can hide,
And sift the red and silver sands lest bone of saint abide,
And chase the Giaours flying night and day, not giving rest,
For that which was our trouble comes again out of the west.
We have set the seal of Solomon on all things under sun,
Of knowledge and of sorrow and endurance of things done,
But a noise is in the mountains, in the mountains, and I know
The voice that shook our palaces—four hundred years ago:
It is he that saith not ‘Kismet’; it is he that knows not Fate ;
It is Richard, it is Raymond, it is Godfrey in the gate!
It is he whose loss is laughter when he counts the wager worth,
Put down your feet upon him, that our peace be on the earth.”
For he heard drums groaning and he heard guns jar,
(Don John of Austria is going to the war.)
Sudden and still—hurrah!
Bolt from Iberia!
Don John of Austria
Is gone by Alcalar.
St. Michael’s on his mountain in the sea-roads of the north
(Don John of Austria is girt and going forth.)
Where the grey seas glitter and the sharp tides shift
And the sea folk labour and the red sails lift.
He shakes his lance of iron and he claps his wings of stone;
The noise is gone through Normandy; the noise is gone alone;
The North is full of tangled things and texts and aching eyes
And dead is all the innocence of anger and surprise,
And Christian killeth Christian in a narrow dusty room,
And Christian dreadeth Christ that hath a newer face of doom,
And Christian hateth Mary that God kissed in Galilee,
But Don John of Austria is riding to the sea.
Don John calling through the blast and the eclipse
Crying with the trumpet, with the trumpet of his lips,
Trumpet that sayeth ha!
      Domino gloria!
Don John of Austria
Is shouting to the ships.
King Philip’s in his closet with the Fleece about his neck
(Don John of Austria is armed upon the deck.)
The walls are hung with velvet that, is black and soft as sin,
And little dwarfs creep out of it and little dwarfs creep in.
He holds a crystal phial that has colours like the moon,
He touches, and it tingles, and he trembles very soon,
And his face is as a fungus of a leprous white and grey
Like plants in the high houses that are shuttered from the day,
And death is in the phial, and the end of noble work,
But Don John of Austria has fired upon the Turk.
Don John’s hunting, and his hounds have bayed—
Booms away past Italy the rumour of his raid
Gun upon gun, ha! ha!
Gun upon gun, hurrah!
Don John of Austria
Has loosed the cannonade.
The Pope was in his chapel before day or battle broke,
(Don John of Austria is hidden in the smoke.)
The hidden room in man’s house where God sits all the year,
The secret window whence the world looks small and very dear.
He sees as in a mirror on the monstrous twilight sea
The crescent of his cruel ships whose name is mystery;
They fling great shadows foe-wards, making Cross and Castle dark,
They veil the plumèd lions on the galleys of St. Mark;
And above the ships are palaces of brown, black-bearded chiefs,
And below the ships are prisons, where with multitudinous griefs,
Christian captives sick and sunless, all a labouring race repines
Like a race in sunken cities, like a nation in the mines.
They are lost like slaves that swat, and in the skies of morning hung
The stair-ways of the tallest gods when tyranny was young.
They are countless, voiceless, hopeless as those fallen or fleeing on
Before the high Kings’ horses in the granite of Babylon.
And many a one grows witless in his quiet room in hell
Where a yellow face looks inward through the lattice of his cell,
And he finds his God forgotten, and he seeks no more a sign—
(But Don John of Austria has burst the battle-line!)
Don John pounding from the slaughter-painted poop,
Purpling all the ocean like a bloody pirate’s sloop,
Scarlet running over on the silvers and the golds,
Breaking of the hatches up and bursting of the holds,
Thronging of the thousands up that labour under sea
White for bliss and blind for sun and stunned for liberty.
Vivat Hispania!
Domino Gloria!
Don John of Austria
Has set his people free!
Cervantes on his galley sets the sword back in the sheath
(Don John of Austria rides homeward with a wreath.)
And he sees across a weary land a straggling road in Spain,
Up which a lean and foolish knight forever rides in vain,
And he smiles, but not as Sultans smile, and settles back the blade….
(But Don John of Austria rides home from the Crusade.)
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Donald R. McClarey

Cradle Catholic. Active in the pro-life movement since 1973. Father of three and happily married for 35 years. Small town lawyer and amateur historian. Former president of the board of directors of the local crisis pregnancy center for a decade.


  1. Queen of the Holy Rosary, grant us victory over the heathens who threaten to destroy Religious Freedom in our land. Grant us courageous men and women who will stand up and defend your Son’s Holy Church without watering down any of its contents. Finally, Our Lady of Victory, grant us the patience to realize that the Victory is yours. That these moments in time are opportunities to join you in battle aginist the forces of darkness.
    In the end…Your Immaculate Heart will Triumph! Your weapon of choice;

    The sorrowful, luminous, joyful and glorious mysteries.

  2. Thank you Donald McClarey. I looked forward to this post. Thank you Philip for your prayer, May the IMMACULATE HEART OF MARY be the refuge for us. One Hail Mary for Bill Diss.

  3. About Bill Diss: All citizens are being denied their rational, immortal souls with sovereign personhood by the death peddlers, Planned Parenthood. For the Supreme Court to redefine the human person as having no soul violates the self-evident truth that all men are created equal. The Court must dispense equal Justice. Redefining the human person as having no sovereign personhood, no immortal human soul, imposes atheism on the people. Baby Roe was never proved to have no soul and was denied her civil right to life. When baby Roe was denied her soul, all men and mankind were denied their human souls and their inherent, innate, human right to life that becomes their civil unalienable right to life.

  4. Thank YOU Mary De Voe for describing the Ottomans of our day, not Isis btw.
    These Ottomans of our day are as cut throat if not worse than the one’s living next door.
    They are ushering in the religion of atheism as described in your essays, Mary.
    Rosary is a must!
    Daily call to arms is crucial in our battle.
    We must not come up with excuses as to why we won’t pray the rosary. We must all pray this important prayer as we are outnumbered and being attacked,(c)atholics who support abortion on demand.)

    Today at 4pm I’ll be on the front lines at Worse than Murder Inc. Part of the Forty days for Life campaign. We truly need all hands on deck!

  5. Philip: Today I received my Holy Land Rosary with Father Mitch Pacwa from EWTN on DVD, and I was able to follow along all mysteries of the Rosary led by Father Pacwa. Now, I am listening to Bishop Fulton Sheen on Life is Worth Living: The Glory of Being American. Bishop Sheen stress the Ninth Amendment and defines democracy against communism. I recommend both to all commentators.

  6. Oh….Thank you so much for this excellent homage to Our Lady of the Rosary and the Battle of Lepanto. I rounded up a few items myself earlier today to email off to a group of friends. I wish people knew history better especially in this case. It would make current events with terrorist attacks, ISIS, and Muslim ‘migration’ more understandable, and the need to pray the rosary more urgent. The liturgical calendar reveals many feasts that bear witness to the ongoing aggression and attacks of Muslims. We just had 2 – Sept 24 Our Lady of Ransom & Sept 12 Feast of the Holy Name of the blessed Virgin Mary. This was perfect- the history and the recitation of Chesterton’s poem.
    You are the best!

  7. Mary De Voe.

    The Life is Worth Living series is timeless, and priceless. I enjoy his wit and wisdom. 🙂
    As for the diocesan fight over his remains, it’s almost poetic. How might his discourse go?
    One could only imagine.

    I too have prayed the Holy Land Rosary with Fr. Mitch. One of the best, since he places you on the scene, and gives a thought provoking meditation before each mystery.

    Two great pieces of advice.

    Yesterday’s front line prayer for the unborn truly brings out the evil in opponents who support the death of children. The hatred they have for us in the Pro-Life movement is interesting. “Crucify Him.” They didn’t yell those words exactly, but as we knelt in prayer, praying our rosaries, the feeling of being hated and scorned was tangible. To share just a small part, a very small part of Christ’s reception of people’s indignation towards him, is found within us as we take a stand for the unborn.

    I highly recommend joining in prayer today.
    Forty days for Life is a testimony of Love.
    If it’s possible…. whoever can read my poor post… consider an hour with Christ on the sidewalk in front of W.T.M.Inc.

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