Once I was a clever boy learning the arts of Oxford... is a quotation from the verses written by Bishop Richard Fleming (c.1385-1431) for his tomb in Lincoln Cathedral. Fleming, the founder of Lincoln College in Oxford, is the subject of my research for a D. Phil., and, like me, a son of the West Riding. I have remarked in the past that I have a deeply meaningful on-going relationship with a dead fifteenth century bishop... it was Fleming who, in effect, enabled me to come to Oxford and to learn its arts, and for that I am immensely grateful.

Thursday, 7 October 2021

The Battle of Lepanto

Today is the Feast of the Holy Rosary, being therefore the 450th anniversary of the battle of Lepanto in 1571. It seemed very appropriate to attend Mass at lunchtime in the form promulgated by Pope St Pius V in 1570, the year before the battle, and of what is so often cited as an example of the intercessery power of the Rosary.

The battle is described by Wikipedia at Battle of Lepanto

The victory of the Holy League - an alliance of Spain and its Italian dependencies, Venice and the Papacy - was the last great sea battle between galleys - not that different indeed from the equally momentous conflict at the nearby location of Actium in 31BC. France slipping in and out of internal religious conflict and with a tendency to court the Ottomans as an anti-Habsburg ally, did not contribute to the Christian forces. Had the result been different their southern coast could have become vulnerable to attacks like those mounted in the late fifteenth century on the coasts of Apulia and Calabria. 

The victory of Lepanto marked the end of the Ottoman threat from the sea, even if that was not immediately clear at the time. It was to be more than a century before the Ottoman threat was equally and definitively turned on land with the lifting of the siege of Vienna in 1683.

Lepanto tends not to figure that highly in the English speaking consciousness. G. K. Chesterton - a writer of whom I have a particular detestation - wrote his poem about the battle in 1911, and it was published in 1915. The Wikipedia article about it, which can be seen at Lepanto (poem)shows just how quirky or downright barking GKC was, if, as the article claims, Don John represents a tiny England versus the Central Powers ( although the poem was written before WWI ) - never mind that he was in reality a Catholic, a Habsburg ( albeit illegitimate ), an member of the dynasty of one of the Central Powers ….

In the real sixteenth century world and not that of Chesterton’s fervid or fervent imagination Queen Elizabeth I only a few years after the battle was happy to encourage trade with the Ottomans and to seek diplomatic understanding based on their shared non-Catholicism - my enemy’s enemy is my friend. The development of trade in the Elizabethan era with the Ottoman Empire, thus breaching the Christian embargo on commerce with Muslims, is considered by the always informed and watchable Dr Kat in her video presentation 

The spirit of the era of Lepanto is depicted by El Greco in his composition of 1578-79 which exists in more than one version The Adoration of the Holy Name or, as it is often termed today, The Dream of Philip II. This was a private commission for the Escorial. It shows the leaders of the Holy League, King Philip, the Pope, the Doge and Don John, united in adoration and supplication beneath the Holy Name. There is an introduction to the painting from the Web Gallery of Art at The Adoration of the Name of Jesus

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