On October 7, 1571, in the Gulf of Lepanto the war galleys of the Holy League squared off against those of the Ottoman Turks, rowed by tens of thousands of Christian slaves. The battle decided the future of Europe, yet few Europeans (and fewer European Americans) know the story, much less how close Western Europe came to suffering an Islamic conquest.
On October 7, 1911, English poet G.K. Chesterton honored the greatest sea-battle in history with the greatest ballad of the 20th Century. Four years later, John Buchan wrote to Chesterton from the trenches in France, “We shouted your Lepanto to one another today!” Little wonder that the poem’s stirring images would be an inspiration to soldiers locked in another struggle for the soul of Europe. The ballad is no less inspiring today and is more timely than ever, as the West faces again the terrible threat of Islam.
Christopher Check, Director of Development for Catholic Answers, believes that “Chesterton’s celebration of this signal moment in history is a reminder that Europe without Christ is emptied of meaning and that Islam is an age-old enemy of the West. As the political and religious conflicts of the 16th-Century tore Europe asunder, the Turk threatened to devour Christendom. She was saved only by the daring of Don John of Austria, the faith of Pope Saint Pius V, and the intercession of the Blessed Virgin.” Check holds a degree in English from Rice University. He served for seven years as a field artillery officer in the Marine Corps. He has lectured on Church history throughout North America and Europe. His lecture concludes with a recitation from memory of Lepanto.