12 September 2010

The Most Holy Name of Mary

As the vine I have brought forth a pleasant odor, and my flowers are the fruit of honor and riches. I am the mother of fair love, and of fear, and of knowledge, and of holy hope. In me is all grace of the way and of the truth, in me is all hope of life and of virtue. Come over to me, all ye that desire me, and be filled with my fruits; for my spirit is sweet above honey, and mine inheritance above honey and the honeycomb. My memory is unto everlasting generations. They that eat me, shall yet hunger; and they that drink me shall yet thirst. He that hearkeneth to me shall not be confounded, and they that work by me shall not sin. They that explain me shall have life everlasting.

Today's Marian feast, like that of October 7 (Our Lady of Victory / Feast of the Most Holy Rosary), commemorates a great victory of the Christian forces of the Holy League (an alliance of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, the Habsburg Monarchy, Bavaria, Saxony, Franconia, Swabia, etc.) over the Turkish Islamic armies of the Ottoman Empire: the raising of the siege of Vienna in 1683. The Count von Starhemberg led 16,000 troops and civilians in the desperate defense of Vienna, which was besieged by the Turkish army of at least 150,000.

On September 11 the King of Poland Jan III Sobieski reached the Kahlenberg, a hill overlooking Vienna from the North, and there encamped for the night. In the early hours of September 12 the King heard Mass atop the hill, and then, just as the Turkish miners were preparing a last blast beneath the fortifications, which had already been breached in many places, and while the starving and exhausted Viennese prepared for hand to hand fighting within the city, the King moved his infantry forward to engage the besiegers.

The Battle of Vienna

The Holy League forces numbered only 80,000 men, but their great advantage lay in the strength of their cavalry - almost 40,000 all told, of which more than 20,000 were of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. The most famous of these fearsome warriors were the Winged Hussars of Poland. The Hussars were the elite cavalry forces of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, and were rarely ever defeated in battle during their heyday (16th and 17th centuries), despite frequent engagements against overwhelming odds.

A Winged Hussar

Late in the afternoon, after watching the infantry fight for twelve hours, King Jan III Sobieski ordered the Holy League cavalry to charge the field - the largest cavalry charge in military history. Four groups of cavalry charged downhill toward the field of battle, one comprised of Austro-Germanic forces, the other three of Polish-Lithuanian. At the head of the whole body of galloping horsemen rode the King himself with 3,000 Winged Hussars. They clove through the Turkish armies, riding straight for the camps and tent of the Grand Vizier. At the same time the last defenders of Vienna poured out of the city to engage the suddenly overwhelmed Turks on the other side.

King Jan III Sobieski at Vienna

The victory of the Christian forces was complete. Paraphrasing Julius Ceasar, the King sent a message to the Pope which read venimus, vidimus, Deus vincit - we came, we saw, God conquered. The Pope extended the feast day on which the battle was fought - the feast of the Holy Name of Mary - to the Universal Church, as a lasting memorial of thanksgiving for the deliverance of Christendom.

The 1683 battle of Vienna is perhaps the single most important historical reason why Europe is still - at least so far - Christian rather than Moslem. God willing, it will remain so, but those who would see Christian Europe survive would do well to call on the Most Holy Name of Mary.

No comments: