Today, the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary, marks the day, a mere three and a quarter centuries ago, when Christendom breathed a collective sigh of relief at the victory of the Holy League before the gates of Vienna. With this victory, the Holy League had finally halted the second Islamic pincer to enslave Europe.
The first pincer had swept across the whole of Christian North Africa in little more than a generation, from about 632. From North Africa, they advanced steadily into Europe through Iberia. The victory of Charles Martel at Poitiers in 732 checked the Arab advance but it was not until 1492 that Arab forces were finally expelled under the Catholic Monarchs of the Spains.
The second line of advance was contemporary with the first. It swept away the Christian powers of the Near East as it had swept away Christian North Africa and swept them away, never, it seems, to return. For some time, the Crusades checked the relentless tide. However, in 1453, while the Arabs still held parts of Iberia, the Ottoman Turks, already masters of Asia Minor, had captured Constantinople, the capital of the Christian East. Throughout the Mediterranean, nowhere was entirely safe from raids by one Islamic group or another.
With the fall of Constantinople, the Ottomans advanced seadily into the heart of Europe from the East, just as the Arabs had done from the South centuries earlier. Would they succeed now where their co-religionists had failed before? Christian cities fell like dominoes: Belgrade in 1521; Rhodes in 1522; and Buda(pest) in 1526 for the first time. Vienna was beseiged by the Turks in 1526. The Turk would be defeated again at Malta in 1565 and Lepanto in 1571 but Vienna remained a front-line City for more than a century. This is the scene as the Battle for Vienna commences in 1683. In truth, it was a battle for the future of Europe and the survival of Christendom.
The city was invested on 14th July, 1683. Graf von Starhemberg, the Governor of the city, refused to capitulate, which was a wise move, given the wholesale slaughter of the citzens of Perchtoldsdorf when they had surrendered a few days earlier.
Imperial forces under Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, were successfully harrying the forward guard of the beseiging Turks when Jan III Sobieski, elective King of Poland, responded to the appeals from Pope and Emperor to lend his aid to the beleagured Christian forces in Austria. He set out for Vienna in August, his forces marching behind the banner of the Blessed Virgin. Passing by the Sanctuary of Our Lady in Czestochowa, they implored Our Lady's help and blessing. Writing to the bishops of Poland, Pope Pius XII recalled the supplications of Sobieski to Mary at the Sanctuary:
"To the same Heavenly Queen, on Clear Mountain, the illustrious John Sobieski, whose eminent valour freed Christianity from the attacks of its old enemies, confided himself." [Cum iam lustri abeat, 1951]
The Polish army crossed the Danube on 6th September. The massed forces of the Holy League, under the flag of the Crown of Our Lady, identical to that used today for the European Union, assembled on the Kahlenberg Heights above Vienna. A key figure at this point was Friar Mark d'Aviano, confessor to Emperor Leopold I. He preached passionately to the men of the Holy League in his capacity as Papal Legate, ensuring that the Holy League remained united and persevered to victory. After Mass early on the morning of 12th September, 1683, the forces of the Holy League swept down upon the foe. In the aftermath of the victory, the Holy League swept the Turks before them out of Hungary, regaining Buda(pest) in 1686.
In 1513, Pope Julius II had granted a local indult to celebrate the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary to the diocese of Cuenta in Spain. It was assigned a proper Office. With the reform of the Breviary undertaken by Pope St. Pius V, the feast was abolished, only to be reinstituted by his successor, Pope Sixtus V. The feast spread to the Archdiocese of Toledo by 1622 and, eventually, to all of Spain and to the Kingdom of Naples.
In thanksgiving for the victory, Blessed Innocent XI extended the feast of the Most Holy Name of Mary to the Universal Church, it then being celebrated upon the Sunday after the 8th of September, the feast of Our Lady's Nativity. Pope St. Pius X, by a decree of 8th July, 1908, fixed the feast upon the day of the victory itself.
Blessed be the Most Holy Name of Mary!