January 17 – Scanderbeg: the hero of Christendom

January 16, 2014

ScanderbegIn a history, where so much is spoken of the regions, from whence the miraculous Image of Our Lady of Good Counsel came, it will be of great use to take a brief glance at the once entirely Catholic nation in which it so long remained, and at the great client of its Sanctuary in Scutari, King George Castriota, or, as he is better known by his Turkish appellation, Scanderbeg, (from the words Iskander and beg or bey, which mean Alexander, the prince), the hero of Christendom….

The miraculous image of Our Lady of Good Counsel of Genazzano.

The miraculous Image of Our Lady of Good Counsel of Genazzano.

Amurath II ascended the throne of his grandfather Bajazet in 1422. He speedily spread his power over the remnant of territory left to Constantinople. He added Greece, and finally Albania, to his dominions; and gave a death blow to all opposition to his power, by a victory over the Christian crusade, which the zeal of the Pope had gathered to resist him at Varna, in 1444.

Skanderbeg

The reign of this Mussulman conqueror brings us to the mighty chief, whom Mary, Mother of Good Counsel, had raised up to save Albania and Europe from him, and from the still more terrible power of his son and successor Mahomet II, the captor of Constantinople. This was George, the youngest of four sons of King John Castriota….

Scanderbeg

But Amurath miscalculated, when he placed the young commander [Scanderbeg] at the head of a force to fight against the Christians. And bitterly he had to repent of his error. Castriota found in this force three hundred Albanians, as firm in their faith, and as devoted to their beloved Madonna of Scutari, as he was himself. And so, confiding in Her intercession, when the first confusion of the first engagement between the forces of Hunyadi and Amurath arose, he gave the signal, and without striking a blow against his fellow Christians, he and his changed sides, and were soon freemen upon the mountains of Albania. There he floated the flag of his fatherland and of his faith, and was soon joined by the fighting men, Suliote, and Mirdite, and Slav, and Greek, who remained true to the traditions of their country and their God.

Scanderbeg

It was however, a terrible risk, to rise against the mighty conqueror, who, after Varna, was, it may be said, omnipotent in all that land now known, or which was lately known, as European Turkey. Amurath was enraged …. The first news he heard of the desertion of Castriota, was followed by the still worse intelligence, that the fugitive had taken every Turkish garrison but one in Albania, and that every Turk in the country was put to the sword. At once the Sultan dispatched forty thousand of his bravest veterans, fresh from the victory of Varna, against the offender. These, Castriota met with 15,000 mountaineers, raw, undisciplined, but devoted to their leader, and perfectly pliable in his hands. The battle was one of the bloodiest on record. The Christians fought for freedom and for life; for faith, for fatherland, for all that was dear, against a foe that had bound them in a hateful slavery. The Turks, enraged at the desertion of the favorite of their sultan, and full of hatred for the Christians, fought for revenge. But after a terrible conflict, the genius of Scanderbeg prevailed, and the remnant of the Turkish veterans, reduced to a handful, had to fly from Albania.

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Not to give time to Castriota to profit by his victory, two other armies of Turks almost immediately appeared, composed of the picked men, and the most fanatical in all the hosts of Amurath. They were, in comparison to the forces of Castriota, as numerous or more numerous, than the first. Their determination was to crush him, and to be done with him. But they followed the same fate as their predecessors. They fought, however, with such desperation, that only seventy-two men were left to surrender. At length the sultan himself, the victor in so many contests, determined to take the command. He assembled all the forces of his empire, capable of taking the field. He marched at their head with a fixed resolution to annihilate Albania, and wreak his vengeance on Scanderbeg. Fortress after fortress of the devoted country fell before the skilled and enthusiastic onset of his troops. His cavalry covered the land like dense clouds. There seemed no hope at all for Albania, when his multitudes of trained warriors at last encircled Krujë , its capital, the last fortress left to Scanderbeg and his handful of mountaineers.

Skanderbeg Monument

Krujë would certainly have offered as little resistance as its sister cities, but the Christian hero was there, strong in his confidence in Mary the powerful Protectress, Who never once in all his life forsook him. With matchless strategy he contrived to keep the myriads of his opponents from the walls. With energy almost superhuman, he swept unexpectedly, now here and now there, by night and by day, into the midst of the foe; every swordsman of his ban hewed down scores, and his own blade flashed as the lightning and caused Moslem heads to fall like snowflakes where he passed. Thousands of the bravest warriors of Amurath were thus swept away continuously. His hosts were diminishing to the point of danger to his very person. And so, the fierce conqueror of so many nations, had to withdraw the remnant of his armies, in sorrow and in shame from the walls of Krujë, pursued with terrific slaughter by the Christians. His proud spirit was crushed at this terrible reverse. He had barely time to reach his capital, Adrianople, when he sank under the misfortune. His heart broke, and he died in consequence, unquestionably, of his disaster in Albania.

The helmet of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, c. 1460. Bought for Skanderbeg by Archduke Ferdinand II.

The helmet of Gjergj Kastrioti Skanderbeg, c. 1460. Bought for Skanderbeg by Archduke Ferdinand II.

Jubilation for this miraculous victory filled all Christendom. The Sanctuary of Our Lady in Scutari was crowded; but none there prayed with more humility and thankfulness, than King George himself, who attributed all his victories to Mary. She made him as gentle in peace, as he was terrible in war. Naturally violent, he so restrained his temper, that in his efforts to repress anger, it is said, his lips would split and bleed. But yet, through Mary he had as much power over his own passions, as over his enemies in the field. He was pure in morals, honorable in conduct, and most devoted to the unity of the Faith, a unity which he furthered with all his power amongst his people. After his splendid successes, he received the blessings, as he had the prayers, and all the temporal assistance that could be given him by the saintly Pontiff Nicholas V. All the princes of Europe sent him their congratulations. But instead of being exalted at this, he used the little peace his victories secured to Albania, to prepare for new wars.

Skanderbeg Monument in Krujë

And these soon came in more frequency and force than ever.

 

Msgr. George F. Dillon, The Virgin Mother of Good Counsel: A History of the Ancient Sanctuary of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Genazzano, and of the Wonderful Apparition and Miraculous Translation of Her Sacred Image From Scutari in Albania to Genazzano in 1467 (Rome: Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide, 1884), pp. 112, 121-128.

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