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Our Lady of Victories

What is our Lady of Victory?

The October 7 feast of Our Lady of the Rosary was formerly known as Our Lady of Victory, due to the triumph of the fleet of the Holy League against the Ottomans on this day in 1571. The Holy League (a joint force formed by the Papal States, the Knights of Malta, The Kingdom of the Two Sicilies, Sardinia, the Kingdom of Spain, the Holy Roman Empire, Venice, Genoa and Savoy) fought and won an intense battle against the fleet of the Ottoman Empire – the Battle of Lepanto.

The League was vastly outnumbered. Pope St. Pius V ordered the churches of Rome opened for prayer day and night, encouraging the faithful throughout Europe to petition the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the recitation of the Rosary. When word reached Pope Pius of the victory of the Holy League, he attributed it to the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary. Thus, he added a new feast day to the Roman Liturgical Calendar: October 7 became the feast of the Holy Rosary.

But this wasn’t the only victory attributed to Our Lady!

In Malta an extremely similar event happened 6 years before. On September 8, 1565, the Maltese and the Knights of Malta prevailed against the Ottomans through another Marian miracle. On the feast day of the Nativity of Our Lady, in Malta also known as Marija Bambina (Baby or Little Mary), the smallest of Christian principalities won against the superpower of the time.

The story begins on May 18, 1565, when an armada of more than 200 warships was sighted off Malta. An invading Ottoman expeditionary force estimated to be 30,000 strong landed, and soon siege preparations began. However, the Knights of St. John and the Maltese prevailed against all odds and, after a terrible siege, the greatest superpower of the day abandoned the fight, accepted defeat, and sailed back home.

Even the Grand Master, Jean Parisot de la Valette, himself didn’t believe this was a coincidence. In fact, during the heroic struggle to defend the Holy Faith and Western Christendom, he found spiritual solace and prayed for guidance before the 12th-century Byzantine icon known as Damaskinì (Our Lady of Damascus or La Damascena), at that time in the church of Our Lady of Damascus in Birgu (or il Borgo).

Actually, on the lifting of the siege on that fateful day of September 8, he laid down his hat and his sword on the altar steps as votive offerings to show his gratitude and thanksgiving to Our Lady for delivering him, the defenders, and the whole of Western Christendom from the Ottoman Turks.

This victory was won against impossible odds, and nobody believed that the Turkish armada could be beaten by the relatively small garrison of the Knights of St. John the Baptist. It was a miracle — a grace granted by the Blessed Virgin to her devout children. Immediately, the Maltese and the Knights added another title to their Heavenly Mother and began to call her Our Lady of Victory (Maltese: Il-Madonna tal-Vitorja).

In 1566, La Vallette laid the foundation stone of his new city, which later was given his name to honour the great war leader – Valletta. He ordered that the first building in his city was to be a church, which was erected on the foundation stone of the Fortress City, and he also financed the construction of this church. It was dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin, and since it was on September 8 that the Turks lifted their siege, it was most appropriate to hail the Madonna as Our Lady of Victory.

On this occasion, the city of Birgu took the name of Città Vittoriosa and Senglea took the title of Città Invicta (Undefeated City). The citizens of Senglea also erected a church in honour of the Virgin’s Birth and Our Lady of Victory, to serve as a memorial of her intervention to help them achieve this memorable triumph – today’s parish basilica and Marian sanctuary. The churches in the Archipelago dedicated to the Nativity of the Blessed Virgin were also hailed as churches of Our Lady of Victories.

Victories not Victory?

In Malta this National holiday is not just Our Lady of Victory, but Our Lady of Victories. Because She never turns away her gaze from us – when all seems lost, She makes haste to help us, and again, victory it is!

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