Thursday, 7 October 2010

The Order and the battle of Lepanto

Today is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, formerly the Feast of Our Lady of Victory.

In 1571 Pope St. Pius V instituted "Our Lady of Victory" as an annual feast to commemorate the victory of Lepanto. The victory was attributed to the Blessed Virgin Mary, as a rosary procession had been offered on that day in St. Peter's Square in Rome for the success of the battle.

The Battle of Lepanto took place on 7 October 1571 when a fleet of the Holy League, a coalition of Spain (including its territories of Naples, Sicily and Sardinia), the Republic of Venice, the Papacy, the Republic of Genoa, the Duchy of Savoy, the Knights Hospitaller and others, decisively defeated the main fleet of the Ottoman Empire.

The five-hour battle was fought at the northern edge of the Gulf of Patras, off western Greece, where the Ottoman forces sailing westwards from their naval station in Lepanto met the Holy League forces, which had come from Messina. Victory gave the Holy League temporary control over the Mediterranean, protected Rome from invasion, and prevented the Ottomans from advancing further into Europe. Lepanto was the last major naval battle fought almost entirely between oar-powered galleys, and has been assigned great symbolic importance since then.

This is of interest to us because among the armada of the Holy League was a squadron of galley ships of the Military and Hospitaller Order of St Lazarus of Jerusalem. The picture below shows a Galley ship (in the middle) flying the standard of the Order of St. Lazarus at the Battle of Lepanto in a detail from a painting “Madonna della Flotta” by A. Riccio which is in the Malta Maritime Museum.



As an Order of Christian chivalry we can be proud of the defence of Christendom which has been, and remains the aim of our noble Order.It was around this time that the Order adopted the motto ATAVIS ET ARMIS, still in use by the Order today.

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