The Battle of Vienna and the Most Holy Name of Mary
In 1683, the forces of the Holy League, under Poland’s King Jan Sobieski, roundly defeated the Mohammedan invaders at the Battle of Vienna. Here is a brief telling of that triumphant occasion by Gary Potter (in “Saint Mary of Victory – The Historical Role of Our Lady in the Armed Defense of the Faith”):
Fortuitously, the pope of the day, Innocent XI, had just brokered an alliance between the Holy Roman Empire and the Kingdom of Poland, which was also menaced by the Mohammedans. When it became known that no fewer than 300,000 Turks were advancing on the imperial capital, Pope Innocent ordered that rosaries be recited in the religious houses and churches of Rome. The same prayers of supplication were offered throughout the Empire. Still, the situation was so dangerous that the imperial court left Vienna for Passau and took refuge there. Meantime, there were special devotions at the Capuchin Church in Vienna to Our Lady Help of Christians, whose famous picture hangs there. It would become the symbol of the victory over the Turks by Poland’s King John Sobieski when he arrived on the scene after a series of forced marches from Czestochowa.
The Polish army hit the numerically superior Turkish force with their surprise attack so hard, the Turks panicked. They did not simply withdraw from the walls of Vienna, they fled. (It is an aside, but of some cultural significance, that such was the Turkish flight, they left behind virtually all their stores and baggage. This is when the Viennese, Europe’s most famous coffee-drinkers, discovered the stuff. The Turks left quantities of it in their stores when they ran.) More to the point, in thanksgiving for the help given by the Mother of God for the victory at Vienna, which was won on her feast day, the 30th day after the Assumption, Pope Innocent extended the feast in honor of the Holy Name of Mary to the Universal Church.
What isn’t mentioned here is that Sobieski began the forced marches to Vienna from the shrine of Our Lady of Czestochowa, where he mounted his charger on the Feast of the Assumption, August 15, 1683, to arrive in Vienna almost a month later.
There were three occasions in the defense of Christendom against Islam in which Europe was saved by a John: John Hunyadi, the Hungarian King, and hero of the Battle of Belgrade, Don Juan of Austria, who led the Christian navies at the Battle of Lepanto, and Jan Sobieski, King of Poland. On each of these instances, the Christian people sang with gratitude, “There was a man sent from God whose name was John,” applying to the hero the description of the Baptist from the prologue of St. John’s Gospel.
In another account of this triumphant victory for Christendom over the Mohammedan…
After 12 hours of fighting, Sobieski’s Polish force held the high ground on the right. At about five o’clock in the afternoon, after watching the ongoing infantry battle from the hills for the whole day, four cavalry groups, one of them Austrian-German, and the other three Polish, totaling 20,000 men, charged down the hills. The attack was led by the Polish king in front of a spearhead of 3000 heavily armed winged Polish lancer hussars. This charge broke the lines of the Ottomans, who were tired from the long fight on two sides. In the confusion, the cavalry headed straight for the Ottoman camps, while the remaining Vienna garrison sallied out of its defenses and joined in the assault.
The Ottoman army were tired and dispirited following the failure of both the sapping attempt and the brute force assault of the city, and the arrival of the cavalry turned the tide of battle against them, sending them into retreat to the south and east. In less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian forces had won the battle and saved Vienna from capture.
After the battle, Sobieski paraphrased Julius Caesar‘s famous quote by saying “veni, vidi, Deus vincit” – “I came, I saw, God conquered”
Sobieski’s heavy artillery in this battle was, as the article said, the “winged Polish lancer hussars.” These elite troops were Polish-Lithuanian heavy lancers developed from an earlier Hungarian prototype. They were “winged” because they wore eagle feathers, a detail variously explained in different histories.
Battle was engaged before the walls of Vienna on September 12, 1683, with Sobieski seemingly put to flight by “the fierce Turkish forces. However, this retreat was a minor setback only. The Hussars renewed their assault and charged the Turks, this time sending the enemy into a retreat. The combat raged on, until Sobieski finally stormed the enemy camp. The Turkish forces were routed, Vienna was saved, and Sobieski sent the “Standard of the Prophet” to Pope Innocent XI along with the good news. In a letter to the Pontiff, Sobieski summed up his victory in these words: Veni, vidi, Deus vicit —–“I came, I saw, God conquered!” To commemorate this glorious victory, and render thanksgiving to God and honor to Our Lady for their solicitude in the struggle, Pope Innocent XI extended “The Feast of the Holy Name of Mary” to the Universal Church. Although the feast was originally celebrated on the Sunday after the Nativity of Mary, Pope St. Pius X [+1914] decreed that it be celebrated on September 12, in honor of the victory of the Catholic forces under John Sobieski. The history of this feast reminds us in some ways of that of “Our Lady of the Rosary,” which was instituted to celebrate and commemorate the victory of the Catholic forces over the Turkish navy at the Battle of Lepanto in 1571: “And thus Christ’s faithful warriors, prepared to sacrifice their life and blood for the welfare of their Faith and their country, proceeded undauntedly to meet their foe near the Gulf of Corinth; while those who were unable to join them formed a band of pious supplicants, who called on Mary and, as one, saluted Her again and again in the words of the Rosary, imploring Her to grant victory to their companions engaged in battle. Our sovereign Lady did grant Her aid.” [Pope Leo XIII, Supremi Apostolatus, 1883]