The course of world history was dramatically changed in 1571. On October 7th, about 30,000 Muslim men and 300 Muslim ships gathered off the coast of Corinth, Greece, ready to make their attack on Europe. A Christian army of about the same size with about 100 fewer ships went to stop them. Europe was threatened and the Muslims had already taken over the Byzantine Empire by 1453. An increasingly divided Christian world was being governed by Islamic law. Even some parts of Europe, right up in to the Danube River Valley, were under Islamic rule. In 1570 Cyprus had been overtaken. Now the Muslim armies were attacking Greece and Italy with the intention of capturing Rome and the Church. The future of western Christian civilization was hanging on this battle.
Pope St. Pius V knew that something had to be done, and that the future of the Church depended upon it. He also knew that even though the Christian and Muslim armies were about equal in size, the Muslims were fierce and determined fighters and they had 100 more ships. He knew that God’s intervention was needed to assure a victory. He was also aware that the Rosary was a very powerful method of prayer and he asked everyone to pray the Rosary asking for a Christian victory. Pope Pius V asked all of the religious convents and priories throughout Europe to pray. He also had all of the armies and fleet crew members praying the Rosary. On the day of the battle of Lepanto, October 7, 1571, the Pope left a meeting with his cardinals to go to the window and pray the Rosary. He had no way of actually knowing that this was the day of the battle. He returned to the meeting and told the Cardinals that the Catholic fleet had been victorious. Mary had assured him of that, long before any conventional news methods could reach him.
The victory had been quite miraculous. Even though they were outnumbered, the Christian fleet lost only 17 ships and about 7,500 men, while the Muslim fleet was totally destroyed or captured and the Muslims lost almost all of their 30,000 men. The Christians also set free over 2,000 slaves that the Muslims had on their ships. There was no doubt that a miracle had occurred. Europe was saved. St. Pius V immediately attributed the Victory to the prayers said in the Rosary. He instituted the feast of Our Lady Of the Rosary, which we still celebrate today.
It is interesting to note that not only the prayers of Mary through the Rosary were present, but a little bit of the New World was there too. In 1531 when Mary appeared to Juan Diego in Central Mexico, she gave him a special image of herself that is still in existence today. The local Archbishop of Mexico had an exact copy of this image made and sent it to King Philip II of Spain. When the king was sending his fleet to fight at Lepanto, he gave Andrea Doria, one of the three principal admirals of the fleet, the copy of the image of Our Lady of Guadalupe. The admiral placed it in his ship and led the fleet in to battle. They also flew the blue flag of Our Lady of Guadalupe on their masthead.
The Rosary has been, and still is, a powerful spiritual weapon for all of us. When reciting the scriptural prayers of the Rosary and when meditating on the various mysteries of the Life of Jesus we draw ourselves in to the very message of the Gospel. It lifts us to new spiritual heights. All of us have various “battles” that we fight in our own lives. The Rosary can help us be victorious over them. I also think that it is important to mention that the Rosary lifts us in to the arms of Jesus, who is the Prince of Peace. Although this article pays special attention to the military battle of Lepanto, we must remember that the primary goal of Jesus is to bring peace. Let us continue to pray the Rosary asking God to lift us up and grant us the Peace that only He can give.