October 7 is the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. Known for several centuries as the feast of “Our Lady of Victory,” today’s feast celebrates a 16th century naval victory that protected Europe from Turkish invasion.
Troops from the Turkish Ottoman Empire had invaded and occupied the Byzantine empire by 1453, bringing a large portion of the Christian population under a version of Islamic law. Over the next hundred years, the Turks expanded their empire westward, conquering and asserting their power.
In 1571, three Catholic powers — Genoa, Spain, and the Papal States — formed an alliance called the Holy League, to defend their Christian people against the Turks. The Holy League’s fleets sailed to confront the Turks near the west coast of Greece on October 7, 1571.
In preparation for battle, crews on more than 200 ships prayed the rosary, and Christians throughout Europe joined them in prayer, gathering in churches to invoke Mary’s protection.
Some accounts say that Pope Pius V was granted a miraculous vision of the Holy League’s stunning victory. All but 13 of the nearly 300 Turkish ships were captured or sunk, and the pope attributed the navy’s victory to the intercession of Our Lady, instituting the feast we celebrate today.