Q&A with Fr John Flader: Victories credited to Mary

Prince Eugene of Savoy by Jacob van Schuppen, circa 1718.
Prince Eugene of Savoy by Jacob van Schuppen, circa 1718.

“Dear Father, I read somewhere that the Rosary has been credited with victory not only in the battle of Lepanto but in other battles as well. Is this true?”

It is most certainly true. I wrote about the battle of Lepanto in my last column and here I will mention three more battles in which victory has been attributed to the Rosary.
Although the Ottoman Turks had been defeated in the naval battle of Lepanto in 1571, they maintained their goal of spreading Islam into Europe and ultimately of taking Rome. In August 1716 they began an invasion of Hungary with an army of 160,000 soldiers.

They were met at Peterwardein by a much smaller Christian force consisting of 91,000 Austrians, Serbs, Croatians, and Hungarians led by Prince Eugene of Savoy. The Christian army outflanked the Turks with their cavalry and driving home their advantage, routed them, leaving over 110,000 dead. The battle ended on 5 August, the feast of Our Lady of the Snows.

After that victory, Prince Eugene marched east and made a series of further conquests, most notably at Temesvar, Hungary. There on 31 August his troops laid siege to the Turkish-held fortress and bombarded it repeatedly until on 12 October the Turks surrendered. That day is the feast of Our Lady of Pilar, celebrated especially in Saragossa, Spain. With that victory Hungary was freed from the threat of Turkish domination.
In August of that same year another Turkish force tried to lay siege to what was considered the bastion of western civilisation, the Venetian-held island of Corfu in the Ionian Sea off the coast of Greece.

The Turks had over 33,000 soldiers while the Christian army defending the island had only some 8,000. The siege began on 19 July and, after several assaults and a severe storm on 9 August which resulted in many Turkish casualties and which the defenders attributed to Corfu’s patron saint, St Spyridon, the siege was broken on 11 August. The last Ottoman forces withdrew on 20 August and once again the Christians were victorious.

All of Christendom attributed the victories at Peterwardein, Temesvar and Corfu to the power of the Rosary. To understand why, it is important to know that after the battle of Peterwardein the reigning Pope Clement XI declared the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary a universal feast for the entire Church.

Until then the feast, first called Our Lady of Victory by Pope Pius V after the battle of Lepanto in 1571 and then renamed Our Lady of the Rosary by his successor Pope Gregory XIII in 1573, was only allowed to be celebrated in churches that had an altar dedicated to the Rosary. The only exception was Spain, where the feast could be celebrated in any church, owing to Spain’s important contribution to the fleet that was victorious at Lepanto.

So after the victory at Peterwardein in August 1716, the following October was the first time that all of Christendom was celebrating the universal feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. For this reason, and because people all over the world were praying the Rosary, victory in these battles was attributed to the Rosary.

In the nineteenth century Pope Leo XIII affirmed this in two separate encyclicals. In 1883, in his encyclical Supremi Apostolatus Officio declaring October the month of the Rosary, he wrote: “Important successes were in the last century gained over the Turks at Temesvar, in Pannonia [Hungary], and at Corfu; and in both cases these engagements coincided with feasts of the Blessed Virgin and with the conclusion of public devotions of the Rosary.”

In 1897, in the encyclical Augustissimae Virginis Mariae, he said: “The history of the Church bears testimony to the power and efficacy of this form of prayer [the Rosary], recording as it does the rout of the Turkish forces at the naval battle of Lepanto, and the victories gained over the same in the last century at Temesvar in Hungary and in the island of Corfu.”

Coincidentally, St Louis de Montfort, who had done so much to preach and write about the Rosary, urging people everywhere to pray it, died earlier in 1716 on 28 April.
He too would have rejoiced over these victories and the establishment of the universal feast of the Rosary.

Once again, we see how the Rosary is a powerful prayer.

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