Today is the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, which was commissioned after the pivotal Battle of Lepanto on October 7, 1571, a key turning point in the history of the world. Muslim forces were threatening to attack both Venice and Rome, which would likely have led to the collapse of Christian Europe. If the Islamic forces had won (and most people thought they would) our world today would likely be majority Muslim.
But Pope Pius V called all the faithful to pray the Rosary—including and especially the soldiers—and through the intercession of Our Lady, a miraculous turn of events swayed the battle in favor of the Christians.
The great G.K. Chesterton wrote a poem about these events, appropriately titled “Lepanto.” I’ve enjoyed it it several times and I must say, after devouring all of Chesterton’s novels, poems, short stories, and the majority of his essays, I think “Lepanto” is my favorite piece of his writing.
I’m not alone in that assessment. Hilaire Belloc, one of Chesterton’s closest friends and himself a renowned poet (fun fact: J.K. Rowling’s favorite poem is one by Belloc), considered “Lepanto” not only Chesterton’s greatest poem, but the greatest of their generation. That’s staggering praise from the usually reserved historian:
“[I]ndeed the whole of that poem is not only the summit of Chesterton’s achievement in verse but the summit of high rhetorical verse in all our generation. I have said this so often that I am almost tired of saying it again, but I must continue to say it. People who cannot see the value of “Lepanto” are half dead. Let them so remain.”
You can read the whole poem free online in 10-15 minutes—it’s relatively sort. But I highly recommend buying the slim Lepanto paperback published by Ignatius Press. It features the whole poem along with helpful notes and commentary by Dale Ahlquist, along with several essays that provide background on the battle and the poem.
On this Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, read and remember this pivotal battle upon which the feast is based, and renew your trust in the intercession of Our Lady.