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Lepanto, the Poles, Islam, and Our Lady

October 7 is the day the Ottoman navy was defeated in Battle of Lepanto, thus saving Europe from further conquest by the formidable Muslim empire.

Painting of the Battle of Lepanto of 1571, artist unknown. National Maritime Museum, Greenwich, London (image via Wikipedia)

Not many countries have their own names in Turkish. We usually use an adaptation of the French word, like Ingiltere for England, or Almanya for Germany. But the Polish had been a pebble in the shoe of the Ottoman Empire for so long that they earned their own word. Leh for the Pole, and Lehistan for Poland.

If there is a country in the world who knows the potential threat from Islam, or from Muslim countries, it is Poland. The history textbooks of my secular education in Turkey can attest to what kinds of menace it had become to expansion of Islam. It had its own subtitle in each chapter about the Empire that brought Islam out of Asia and Africa.

These Lehs are now praying the Rosary on the anniversary of a naval war that is unfamiliar to many Americans, Catholic or otherwise. October 7 is the day the Ottoman navy was defeated in Battle of Lepanto, thus saving Europe from further conquest by the formidable Muslim empire. It was a turning point in the flow of history, and Our Lady had no small role in this victory.

All the world was a chess board, the students from elementary school to college are taught in Turkey. On the one side stood the Christians, with their corrupted religion and altered holy book. On the other side stood the Ottomans, with Muhammad’s caliph as their sultan and the perfect religion as their guide.

For centuries, victories were many, as the Turkish Empire expanded from Asia to Africa, then to Europe. Even the New Rome, Constantinople, fell into the hands of Mehmed II. The Aegean Sea, which St. Paul crossed to preach, and where the Battle of Troy was fought, became a Turkish sea. What was stopping the soldiers of the caliph to make the Mediterranean Turkish as well?

From Istanbul, all things seem possible. The little island of Cyprus provided the perfect excuse for the Ottomans to deploy their mighty navy to Lepanto. Kaptan-i Derya, the Ottoman admiral, argued that the Crusaders were getting ready to conquer Cyprus. Once Muslim always Muslim. Even the suggestion of such re-conquest was unacceptable.

The textbooks emphasized how the wise admiral was right to predict the Christian treachery. Deployment of the navy in response was merely an attempt to defend the sultan’s hard-earned lands. The Ottoman navy was eventually defeated in Lepanto by the Holy League. Hundreds of Turkish galleys were destroyed, thousands of soldiers and officers were killed. The setback was significant.

After Lepanto, the Ottoman encroachment into Italy was halted. Eventually, this loss was the beginning of the end of Ottoman territorial expansion into Europe. This might be an obscure victory to the ears of those who were raised with Protestant history, but Lepanto was where Our Lady told the Muslims that they can come this far, but no more.

The fact that there was a Holy League despite the constant financial and political rivalries among Catholic states is no small miracle in itself. But the admiral of the Holy League, Don John, made sure that his troops would not only rely on their cannons and swords, but would use all the available spiritual weapons as well. His fleet fasted for three days in preparation. Franciscan, Capuchin, Dominican, Theatine, and Jesuit priests offered Mass and heard confessions in the Holy League galleys. Pope Pius V granted a plenary indulgence to soldiers.

Then came in Our Lady, because it was her mantle of protection that would lead them to the victory. Before the battle, Don John gave every man a rosary. The entire fleet and all the faithful in Rome and Italy petitioned Our Lady on their knees. She listened. She inspired Don John to try unheard-of strategies. She changed the direction of the wind. One of the bloodiest of battles ended in favor of Europe, which would be spared from Muslim invasion.

Our Lady showed Pope Pius a vision of victory, long before news reached Rome. In thanksgiving for this great favor, the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary is celebrated on October 7.

For our times, the Battle of Lepanto provides a singular cautionary tale and example. Maybe there are no more Ottoman galleys or Janissary armies at the doors of Europe—or America—but a more formidable enemy has gained an entrance. Islam, in its rawest form, has found its long-coveted place in European society and the American mind.

The fight is different now. As Christian virtue retreats from the Western heart and mind, Islamic ideology finds an empty room, ready to be inhabited with a belief system that promises a false purpose, an imaginary sense of community, and a distorted view of masculinity.

For all these and other corruptions Islam brings forth, our strongest weapon is Our Lady, who found her way even into the Quran and became one of the most revered women among Muslims: “[T]he angels said, ‘O Mary, indeed Allah has chosen you and purified you and chosen you above the women of the worlds’” (Quran 3:42).

In Turkey, we called her Meryem Ana, Mother Mary, and it was one of the most common baby girl names. Her shrines are revered by Muslims as well as Christians. In a religion where women are considered inferior and inherently flawed, she is the only woman mentioned by name in the Quran and is considered an example.

The Polish, like Don John, know that the onslaught of Islam, be it physical or spiritual, can only be curbed under the protection of Mary’s motherly mantle. Let us take heed from the Lehs, who for centuries fought the battle against the advancing Muslim armies.

More so than in the galleys of a 16th-century battle, we should fall to our knees and pray for Our Lady’s intercession, for she is only one that can build a true bridge to the hearts of the Muslims.

(Editor’s note: This essay was originally posted on October 7, 2017.)


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About Derya M. Little 13 Articles
Derya M. Little has a PhD in politics from Durham University, England and an MA in history from Bilkent University, Turkey. She is the author of several books, including From Islam to Christ: One Woman's Path through the Riddles of God (Ignatius Press, 2017) and A Beginner's Guide to the Latin Mass (2019). She can be visited online at DeryaLittle.com.

33 Comments

  1. The Islamic banners captured at Lepanto were brought to Rome and reserved in the Basilica of St Mary Major in honour of this great victory. Pope Paul VI gave them back as a gesture of reconciliation which always struck me as odd. Reminding people of their defeats is hardly the most sensitive of things to do.

    • I wonder if he then, with that very kind gesture, has mentioned with one single word the Armenian genocide which has happened just a few decades before?

  2. My bet is this pope looks very askew at the meaning of this great sea battle victory.
    After all, islam is not our enemy. No, of course not. Islam has completely changed since the battle of Lepanto. Has it not? In so very many ways.
    Lepanto battle was likely very unnecessary in the mind of the current bishop of Rome. War=Bad. Nothing worse than war.
    So both sides were at fault. Probably the Christian side more than the muslim side….of course.

  3. Actually, Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ is denied by Islam and her Son is also denied by Islam. The devotion Islam shows, is to an imaginary Mary, to a Mary that Islam made up, and the devotion and honor is not to Mary the Mother of Jesus Christ, Who is the Son of God. Do not fall for the false teaching, the false belief, that Islam honors Mother Mary, the Mother of Jesus Christ, rather, Islam was established, denying that Jesus is the Son of God, and denying that Mary is the Mother of the Son of God. God bless, C-Marie

    • Dear C-Marie,
      I am familiar with teachings of Islam, since I was raised Muslim. My point in this essay was that Our Lady found her way into a religion fundamentally anti-Christian. Because of the unlikely reverence to the Mother Jesus, we should unceasingly ask for her help for the conversion of Muslims and for her protections against Islam. I believe, she is the key.

  4. Later than the battle of Lepanto (1571), the battle for Vienna at the end of next century (1683) actually marks the farthest extension of the eastern Islamic invasion into Europe. And the final defeat of the Sultan in the east came in 1697, blocking his final attempt to establish an outpost north of the Danube, the original frontier of ancient Rome. And as for Lepanto, the possibly lesser battle (for the Mediterranean), in the early 19th century (1801-3) President Jefferson was compelled to help neutralize the North African Barbary pirates (Muslims) by deploying the USS Constitution and several other ships in the First Barbary War, over two centuries after Lepanto.

    As for Islam and Mary (though not appreciated as the Mother of God), Mohammed did name her as among the four women in history whom he valued most highly: Mary, his first wife Kadijha (a monogamous marriage until her death at his age of 53), his daughter Fatima (one of six children and the only one who outlived him, this by only two months), and (I think) Sarah the wife of Abraham.

    Bishop Sheen concurs with writer Darya Little (et al) on the role of Mary at Lepanto and in the future conversion of Muslims: “I believe that the Blessed Virgin chose to be known as ‘Our Lady of Fatima’ as a pledge and a sign of hope to the Moslem people and as an assurance that they, who show her so much respect, will one day accept her Divine Son, too” (letter reprinted in Jacques Jomier, OP, The Bible and the Qur’an, 1959/Ignatius 2002).

  5. Ms Little,

    Thank you for your great courage, clarity, and charity. May Our Lady serve as an intercessor and converter of Islam because of the great respect she possesses in Islam.

    I believe, the respect Turkey has for Poland stems from the Battle of Vienna in 1688 led by John Sobieski.

    God Bless,
    Jim Gill

  6. Devotion to Our Lady of the Rosary today’s memorial Mass formerly called Our Lady of Victory referencing victory at Lepanto is most efficacious during our current ecclesial crisis. An interesting anecdote presented here began with interest in Ottoman Turkish Papal relations during past centuries evoked when I visited the Vatican’s historical treasury collection that included several magnificent golden jeweled artifacts shields scepters coats of arms gifts to popes from Turkish sultans. The following extract may be of like interest to the reader. Notice Pope Callistus III called Mehmet II Son of the Devil though relations continued.
    “The history of Turkey Vatican relations can be traced back to Ottoman Sultan Orhan Ghazi period (1326-1360). Due to the expansion of Ottoman territory and therefore including some Latin populated lands to the state’s territory, in a sense necessitated these relations (Fortescue, 1907: 415; Çoban, 2014: 153).However, and naturally, the conquest of Istanbul by the Turks in 1453 was not welcomed at all by the Papacy. Victory of Sultan Mehmet II revived the idea of East-West alliance, and Papacy carried out alliance negotiations with many eastern countries. Yet, these negotiations didn’t yield any positive outcome. In this sense, the relations of Popes with the Turks are observed to have taken place in different dimensions. For instance, while Pope Callistus III called Mehmet II as the “son of the devil,” Pope Alexander VI formed alliances with Sultan Beyazıt II, son of Mehmet II (Pfeffermann, 2003: 35, 49, 87). Continued with political and military tactical moves, Ottoman-Vatican relations had shifted to a new period with the privileges bestowed to France in the 16th century. The French, with these privileges given against the German Emperor Charles V, gained an enormous freedom throughout Ottoman lands (İnalcık, 2008: 31-33; Ceran, 2014: 411-412). In the following ages, these developments had brought the French to the statue of the protectorate of the Catholics in the East (Şahin: 2009: 282-283, 288). We see that France had a different attitude towards the Papacy when we come to the first years of the 19th century” (Ahmet Turkan Asst Prof Dumlupinar U Turkey).

    • ergo, France did not join in the Holy League of Pope St. Pius V. However, did not Duchy of Savoy send a contingent?

      I annually make my parish aware of the reasons for the special feasts of the Liturgical calendar. Thank you Pp St. JP II for reinstating Holy Name of Mary.
      Aug 6, 1456 Transfiguration= victory at Belgrade
      Sep 12, 1683 Holy Name of Mary = victory at Vienna
      Oct 7, 1571 Our Lady of Victory/Rosary = victory at Lepanto

      • Yes the Duchy of Savoy did. Although the royal house that would emerge from that Duchy which eventually included Piedmont would be associated with Italy and Italian unification later titled the Kingdom of Sardinia for political reasons. Savoy was bartered to France by the Kingdom of Sardinia to enlist their aid in militarily wresting Lombardy from the Austro Hungarian Empire and initiating the process of Italian unification 1864. The coat of arms of Savoy centered the Italian colors until inglorious defeat fault of Mussolini WW II. A bit of history.

  7. By God’s Grace, not only prayers today, Mass and Communion and the Holy Rosary…but I raised a glass in gratitude for those who gave their lives at Lepanto and years later at Vienna…not a fine wine but an affordable Sobieski vodka that punches way above its price point.

    Thank you, Derya for the inspiration.

    Our Lady of Fatima, pray for us…not only for Muslims but for the hierarchy of the Catholic Church!

  8. Read it and pray the rosary, for our Lady’s intercession to protect the Church and save humanity from Satan.

    May God bless you Derya and thank you.

    Tony

  9. When Poland was wiped off the map from about 1795 until 1918, Turkey was one of only two countries in the world that continued to recognize Poland and maintained its ambassadorship. My Polish co-worker believes that this was because Turkey had great respect for Poland because of their history together.

  10. When Poland was wiped off the map from about 1795 to 1918, Turkey was one of only two countries in the world that continued to recognize Poland and maintain its ambassadorship. My Polish co-worker believes that this was because of the great respect Turkey had for Poland.

  11. It is worth noting that in one of his prophetic dreams, don Bosco saw the Church of the future as a vessel in the midst of a storm,surrounded by other hostile vessels. He then decides to chain the Church to a giant pillar in the sea with Lepanto written at the base and the virgin Mary on top. He also links the Church to another pillar with a gigantic host at the top. The Catholic Church is the only one that survives the storm. Interestingly, when our Lady appeared at Fatima, her visit had been prepared by an angel who taught the children to adore the Eucharist and to make reparation. Clearly, it is all linked together. She even described herself as the Lady of the Rosary with a mission from God to establish devotion to her Immaculate Heart: one of the tasks she gave us that is still unfulfilled and which has had its sad consequences.

    • I was just pointing out that it was one of the few occasions that Turks did not opt for the transliteration of the French word. Our common history of struggle is the reason for this.

  12. I have often wondered and have little, of the economics of Muslim conquests. In detail, how did the status quo form their armies, plan, and pay for their Jihads? I can’t imagine that the Sultan and the ‘aristocracy’ therein would have operating capital, but rather would have to borrow money, repayable upon asset accumulation. Not in interest bearing payments since usury is forbidden in Islam.

    • The land was heavily taxed, even the Muslim lands. Non-Muslim lands paid the jizya. Economics is one of the reasons the Empire needed to constantly expand. When the Ottomans reached natural barriers, the whole system stared to stagnate. The military was also composed of different groups of people who may and may not have been compensated for their trouble. The Janissaries rebelled often in the later years for money and the permission to get married.

      I think, Mustafa Kemal saw the problem with this “model”. That’s why he focused on technology and innovation, but scientific advancement needs to be supported with a belief in rational, knowable and loving God.

      • Dear Derya and Christian friends,

        As a Muslim, I invite you to firstly find common ground with us. Please stop seeing us as your enemies, and start seeing us fellow creatures of the One True God. Ask yourself, did the great Messenger Isa, or Jesus, alahi salaam, peace be upon him, not live in a manner that resembles Muslims much more than Christians. And, more importantly, why would he have left so much confusion about his own status if believing in his divinity was the way to salvation. He was a Blessed and Beloved Servant of Allah, or God; a beautiful status and station. It really is that simple!

        I pray that Allah guides you all dear friends – and peace be upon the one who acts upon true guidance.

        Thanks,
        Shaizad

        • “the great Messenger Isa, or Jesus, alahi salaam, peace be upon him,”

          Angels are messengers. Jesus is God the Son, the second Person in the Holy Trinity. While you claim to be honoring Him, that’s sort of like my saying to a king, “I honor you as a good secretary.”

          “not live in a manner that resembles Muslims much more than Christians.”

          No. Actually, he lived in a manner that resembles Jews, since He was one.

          “And, more importantly, why would he have left so much confusion about his own status if believing in his divinity was the way to salvation.”

          He left no confusion; He was quite clear, as were His followers who wrote the Bible under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit.

          “He was a Blessed and Beloved Servant of Allah, or God; a beautiful status and station. It really is that simple!”

          So say you, but you are quite simply wrong. He is God.

          “I pray that Allah guides you all dear friends – and peace be upon the one who acts upon true guidance.”

          I pray that God guides you to the Truth – which is not Islam.

          • Many thanks Leslie, and all the Christian friends on here, for your thoughtful response.

            Please contemplate that Allah, or God, in his Infinite Mercy would not want or expect us to believe without rationality. The Holy Quran gives many examples and much rational reasoning in matters pertaining to faith.

            You said Isa alaihi salaam lived as a Jew. That’s true (we consider the righteous Jews of his time to be ‘Muslims’). You see, Isa, alaihi salaam, did not come to spread a religion that was different from the religion of the great Messenger Moses, or Musa, alaihi salaam. And our Beloved Messenger Muhammad, sallallahu alaihi wassallam, continued this message on and corrected any changes that mankind had introduced to this divine, universal way of life

            Also consider how you differ over the grear Messenger Ibrahim, alaihi salaam, and accounts of other aspects such as the lineage of Isa alaihi salaam across the Old and New Testaments. But, my dear friends, let us not debate over that.

            My dear friends, I revere, love and respect all Allah’s Messengers, but I worship Allah alone. Please be true to ‘Oh Children of Israel…your Lord God is One’ and join me in my harmonious faith of Islam. The Door of Allah’s Mercy is always open, to anyone on here who wants to come in.

            Many thanks to you all again and peace be upon the one who follows true guidance,
            Shaizad

          • “Please contemplate that Allah, or God, in his Infinite Mercy would not want or expect us to believe without rationality. ”

            Of course God does not want or expect us to believe without rationality. You might try reading some of St. Thomas Aquinas’ writings, for example, if reason is what you seek.

            “The Holy Quran gives many examples and much rational reasoning in matters pertaining to faith.”

            I doubt it. I’ll defer to Derya Little’s knowledge on this; is what this person writes true, Dr. Little?

            “(we consider the righteous Jews of his time to be ‘Muslims’)”

            You consider falsely. Islam was invented in the 600’s AD, and it requires considerable chutzpah to try to claim that Jews of 600 years before are a part of it.

            “You see, Isa, alaihi salaam, did not come to spread a religion that was different from the religion of the great Messenger Moses”

            Of course Jesus did not come to spread a religion different from that of Moses. As He said, “Do not think that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets. I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17)

            “…Muhammad . . . continued this message on and corrected any changes that mankind had introduced to this divine, universal way of life”

            Bilge. Muhammed didn’t correct anything, he just borrowed from numerous sources. “Mohammed’s religion, known among its adherents as Islam, contains practically nothing original; it is a confused combination of native Arabian heathenism, Judaism, Christianity, Sabiism (Mandoeanism), Hanifism, and Zoroastrianism. ” http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/10424a.htm

            “My dear friends, I revere, love and respect all Allah’s Messengers, but I worship Allah alone.”

            We worship God alone: the triune God, Father, Son, and Holy Ghost.

            “Please be true to ‘Oh Children of Israel…your Lord God is One’”

            There is only one God; and He is three Persons.
            https://www.catholic.com/magazine/online-edition/explaining-the-trinity

            “and join me in my harmonious faith of Islam.”

            While I don’t question your good intentions and the fact that you believe in Islam, there is no way that I will leave the Truth to belong to a lie.

            “The Door of Allah’s Mercy is always open, to anyone on here who wants to come in.”

            Those of us who are Catholic are already members of the Body of Christ. We know of God’s mercy and we certainly don’t need to leave the Church to find it.

        • Thank you Shaizad your comment “I invite you to firstly find common ground with us”

          I do not have a comprehensive understanding of your religion, but it is fair to say that you relate your beliefs to the God of the Old Testament (Our Father). I have seen virtues in many Muslims , possible emanating from Psalms which relate to the Beatitudes (The Beatitudes are eight blessings recounted by Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount.) Which is a manifestation of the desire to love God/Truth within your own given situation, and only God knows where that may lead to..

          I live within ten miles of a large Moslem community and have encountered Moslems throughout my life, as an example I will describe two encounters with two Moslem men over the last seven years, one in his mid to late twenties the other in his mid-thirties.

          One of them was in the employment of an English boss who asked/ ‘Told’ him surreptitiously to do something dishonest, as he gave me my purchase and change, he blushed and turned his eyes away from me, and finally bowed his head.

          “May God help him!

          On another occasion I was discussing with a Moslem his ethics and our Christian ones, it became apparent that one of the topics related to him personally, as through genuine gesture and demeanor he acknowledged in humility his own sin and went quite pale.

          What we are seeing in these two given situations are lively consciences, which is a manifestation of the love of God/Truth. I have seen this same love of God/Truth in many other Moslems also, but not all, as culture and sin also plays a part in individual behavior.
          As a Christian I do not see myself as been superior before God in relation to these young men, rather I would ask for them, that which I asked for myself, that is God’s infinite mercy and love while reflecting on these words

          “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you”

          For us Christians to diminish the genuine brotherhood (Unit of Purpose) that is often manifest before mankind in Muslim communities, is to bury ones head in the sand so to say. Rather we should work to confront a Godless Western Culture and the evils committed by the elite within our own Church. From Abuse Coverups, to the Public Breaking Of the Second Commandment, which relates to the present Divine Mercy Image. Evils that would certainly not be tolerated by Muslims in their faith, and then perhaps we would see some of them accepting the authenticity of the Risen Christ.

          Shaizad our common ground “God made me to know Him’ so do not all sincere seekers of Truth, work to the greater glory of God? As God looks at the heart.

          Please consider continuing via the link. (First Post under the article)
          https://www.catholicworldreport.com/2019/06/02/pope-francis-the-uniqueness-of-christ-and-the-will-of-the-father/#comment-138289

          Sincerely Kevin

          • Hi Kevin,

            Thanks for your kind words (and helping me with the posting too!). I’ve posted separately to everyone, but, to you specifically, I agree with a lot of what you have stated. That’s really great, and it feels like a very constructive interaction too.

            Thanks again,
            Shaizad

        • Your welcome Shaizad. From the Beatitudes

          “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God”.

          Kevin

    • It is also worth mentioning that in Muslim lands, due to the special tax on Christians, the poor in many cases really had no choice but to become Muslims. When this provoked massive conversions to Islam under the Ottomans, the loss of that tax revenue actually created an economic crisis at that time.

  13. Dear Leslie, thanks again for giving so much thought to my comments and to anyone else on here who has read them.

    I just wanted to point out again that we believe ‘Islam’ (regardless of what it was called) was the religion all Prophets of Allah followed since Adam alaihimusalaam. Also, if you read the Holy Quran’s you’ll find compelling arguments that will move you to tears. I do pray Allah inspires you to read the Holy Quran with an open heart – that is the only fair test, of course.

    With that I conclude my friends…the Holy Quran says regarding those good Christians and Jews that believed in Isa/Musa (Jesus/Moses) alaihimusalaam and then in Muhammad sallallahu alaihi wassalaam that ‘for them is double reward’. What a beautiful offer from Allah!

    So my friends let’s find common ground and come together in the correct belief in Allah, or God.

    I’ll leave you with that, may Allah guide you all and then bless you.

    Many thanks,
    Shaizad

    • Shaizad,
      Thank you for your comments & your civility. The world would be a better place if we could all communicate with more respect & courtesy.
      God bless you too!

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