October 7, 2009

Remember Lepanto

Don Giovanni D'Austria
By Giovanni di Napoli

On October 7, 1571 off the coast of Greece, near the Gulf of Lepanto, the greatest sea battle in history took place between the fleets of the Holy League and the Ottoman Empire. With the blessing of Pope Pius V the Christian armada under the command of Don John of Austria dealt a terrible blow to the massive Ottoman flotilla preparing to invade the Italian peninsula. The Christian armada consisted of ships from Spain (which, at the time included the viceroyalty of Naples and Sicily), the Papal States, Venice, Genoa, and the Knights of Malta. 

Since the conquest of Constantinople in 1453 the Ottoman Turks were steadily advancing across the Mediterranean with few setbacks. Desperate to stem the tide of the seemingly invincible onslaught the European powers wisely set aside their differences and joined forces in a rare display of unity to save and avenge Christendom from the constant attacks by Moslem raiders. In fact, Venice was still stinging from its recent loss of Cyprus in 1570.

After the island's capitulation, the Venetian commander Marcantonio Bragadino had his nose and ears cut off and was forced to crawl mutilated before his tormentors. Bragadino was then flayed alive; his skin was stuffed with hay and sent back to Constantinople as a ghoulish trophy. Thousands of others were raped, butchered or sold off as slaves for the galleys and seraglios across the Islamic world. All Europe faced a similar fate if the Moslem threat was not stopped. 

Outnumbered, the men of the West met their foe at sea; the fate of their homelands lay in the balance. With great determination and ferocity they punished the Ottoman fleet. The canons roared and sailors fought in hand-to-hand combat; the sea red ran with blood. When it was over, hundreds of Ottoman vessels were destroyed or taken, as many as 25,000 Saracens were slain or captured (to only 8,000 Christians), and some 13,000 European slaves were freed. The Turkish admiral Ali Pasha was beheaded on the spot. At least for the moment, the Moslem threat was smashed.

The Southern Italian contribution consisted of thirty ships and crews from Naples and ten from Sicily. One of the many heroes of the great battle was the Sicilian captain Giovanni Cardona da Palermo. His ship, Capitana di Sicilia, unfathomably engaged sixteen Turkish galleys alone and is credited with preventing the Christian fleet from being encircled by the Ottomans during a critical moment in the battle. 

Europeans were pessimistic about their chances to defeat the Ottoman war machine. The Pope himself urged all Christians to say the Rosary every day for our crews, on whose desperate actions the fate of Christendom rested. In fact, the miraculous victory was attributed to the intervention of Our Lady Queen of the Rosary, later called Our Lady Queen of Victory. Today, I can never look at the Rosary without remembering the spirit and the indomitable will of the men who fought and died for our faith at Lepanto.

Islam's defeat at Lepanto spared Southern Europe the same cruel fate as the Balkans or a repeat of the horrific crimes committed by the Ottomans at Otranto, Apulia in 1480. We should never forget the sacrifice our forefathers made to defend our civilization, a sacrifice criminally neglected today by Europe's poor excuses for leaders and churchmen, who out of greed and corruption are surrendering our birthright without a fight. 


A reader sent me information on this interesting festival and I thought I would share it with you.

Camjuzzu i focu (The Burning Camel)

Reprinted from Villaggio Hotel Tonicello 
Stemma di Tropea

The tradition of the “Camjuzzu ì focu” is part of the surviving ritual which protects against negative influences by means of the exorcism of the Turkish invading enemy. In fact, the dance “U Camjuzzzu i Focu” (the Burning Camel) symbolises the expulsion of the Moslems who, for a period ruled Tropea and its hamlets and travelled around on their camels collecting tributes. But, more generally speaking, it symbolises resistance to arrogance and exploitation. The dance is “performed” by a rudimentary camel made of hollow canes with gunpowder and explosives placed inside at regular intervals. Towards the end of the evening the camel is hoisted onto the shoulders of a man who begins a dance to the deafening sound of tambourines; he goes backwards and forwards along the path chosen for the dance, while the lighted gunpowder spreads smoke and flames which alternate with the bangs. The dance continues until the last spark of gunpowder sets off the explosion of the Catherine-wheel in the camel’s tail.

The dance of the “Camjuzzo i Focu” (the Burning camel) is the conclusion of the festivities and has its origins in the burning of the Moslem ships by the Christian fleet during the battle of Lepanto.