The Battle of Vienna and the 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.

To continue the Catholic triumphalism a bit more, we will cite the Wikipedia article on the battle itself:

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. (To get a picture of what they looked like, go here.)

Battle of Vienna, anonymous painting (source)

Battle of Vienna, anonymous painting (source)

When the husaria (as they are known in Polish) went into battle, they customarily sang a Polish hymn, the most ancient national anthem in the world, the Bogurodzica (Mother of God). A painting, by Józef Brandt, of Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth forces singing the Bogurodzica before battle can be seen here. Oddly enough, the words of this chant do not mention the nation of Poland. It is a hymn to Our Lady and invokes also the intercession of St. John the Baptist. (To hear an MP3 recording of it, go here.)

What a tribute to Catholic Poland: their national anthem was a hymn to the Mother of God! May she continue to bless her Poland, and all the lands of former Christendom — and may she make them Christendom again.

  • Day of the Siege,
    released in 2012, starring F. Murray Abraham as Catholic friar Marco
    D’Aviano is a movie about the 1683 battle of Vienna. Its official 2014
    trailer on YouTube is at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HolSYyDsRJc

  • Wulfrano Ruiz Sainz

    When men were men and catholics were catholics.

  • Alyosha Karamazov

    Utique!