Today, October 7th, marks the anniversary of the Battle of Lepanto in 1571, arguably the greatest upset in a naval battle in history, in which the West devastated Islamic forces.
In the 16th century, the Islamic Caliphate – the Ottoman Empire – continued it’s incursion and expansion into Western lands, including the Mediterranean, hoping to conquer all of Europe.
During the Siege of Malta in 1565, 500 Knights of the Hospitallers and approximately 2,000 soldiers held off 40,000 muslim invaders. At the Battle of Famagusta in 1571, muslims were frustrated by another small number of Christian fighters devastating the Islamic forces until less than 400 Christians remained. After promising safe passage for the remaining Christians, the muslims at Famagusta instead beheaded them, skinned their leader alive, stuffed his body with hay, and then hung him from their ship’s mast as a warning to others.
The muslims brutal treatment of those they engaged in battle, like those in Famagusta, energized the Christians’ Holy League fleet.
In September 1571, the Holy League’s fleet assembled at Messina, Sicily with 206 galleys and 6 smaller ships, manned by 40,000 sailors carrying approximately 27,000 soldiers. The Holy League sailed for Corfu on September 16th with John of Austria (Don Juan) commanding (in the center), Agostino Barbarigo on the left, Italy’s Admiral Giovanni Andrea Doria on the right, and, from Spain, Álvaro de Bazán in reserve.
The Muslim fleet was commanded by Ali Pasha (center), Alexandria’s governor, Mohammed Saulak (right), and the Pasha of Algiers Uluch Ali on the left. The Turkish fleet flew the green standard with the word “Allah” embroidered over 29,000 times on it.
On the eve of battle – October 6th – Priests on the Holy League’s vessels held Mass, heard confessions, and prayed with the men. Knowing the Turks had never been defeated on the sea, the men of the Holy League prayed the Rosary and asked Mary, the Mother of God, to pray for them.
Across Europe, people had been praying for months, and the Pope called for all Christians to pray the Rosary for victory.
The tactics of the day were to engage the enemy ship to ship, lash them together, and fight close hand to hand combat, but the West had developed ships with accurate cannons and a low profile unseen before.
On October 7, 1571, the Battle of Lepanto began with the Holy League’s cannons ripping down the masts of Turkish ships and doing great damage before the fleets came in close range.
John of Austria’s Real and Ali Pasha’s Sultana – the flagships for each force – collided together. Fierce fighting ensued and finally subsided when Ali Pasha was shot dead and the Holy League standard was raised over the Sultana. Even though the Muslim center was collapsing, the battle raged on.
In the end, the Christians were victorious. The Holy league captured 117 galleys and thousands of men, liberated over 12,000 enslaved Christians, and sank or burned about four dozen enemy galleys.
Across Europe, as news of the victory at Lepanto spread, church bells rang out and celebrations ensued. The Church declared October 7th a Feast Day to celebrate this miraculous victory.
Today, this stands as a reminder of how precious our liberty truly is. Since 622 AD, the armies of Mohammad have devastated many lands, killed millions of people, and enslaved many more in the name of Allah.
The memorial of the Battle of Lepanto should remind every American and liberty-loving human being that Islam’s barbaric system must be rejected and repelled as has been done so many times in history by those still able to discern between good and evil.