Turks and Europe: The Battle of Belgrade 1456

In 1453 Constantinople fell into the hands of the Turks of Mohammed II that tried to enter Europe poushing up through the Balkans. Christians and Turks fought in Belgrado and at 6 August, against any hope, Christians wan. The great enterprise had three main characters: St. John of Capistrano, the captain John Hunyadi and the Cardinal John Carvajal.In memory the Pope Callisto III founded the feast of Transfiguration to symbolize Europe transfigured with joy.

Belgrade will fall in 1521. The Turks of Suleiman the Magnificent will succeed in conquering the Balkans,invading Hungary (battle of Mohàcs, 1526) and in besieging Vienna for the first time (1529). Belgrado will be free only in 1717, after almost two centuries of occupation.

Born in 1386 in the city of Capistrano in the Kingdom of Naples, Italy, John entered law school at Perugia where he became a famous jurist and was appointed governor of that city in 1412 at age 26. He entered the Franciscan Monastery of Monte after becoming disillusioned with the world. His superior, Blessed Mark of Bergamo, made strong tests of his late vocation before he was accepted in the Order. For example, once John was ordered to ride through the streets of Perugia on a donkey with his head turned toward the tail of the animal and wearing a cardboard mitre on his head with his worst sins written on it.

With the support of St. James of the Marches and St. Bernardine of Siena, he overcame all the difficulties and met with great success in his apostolate. He had the friendship and support of four Popes, reformed his Order, led a Crusade, and with his extraordinary gift for preaching evangelized in Italy, France, Germany, Austria, Hungary and Poland. He converted countless pagans, fanatic heretics, and obstinate Jews, and brought hundreds of young men to the religious life. He had a special grace to reconcile quarrels. He was named Inquisitor against the Hussites and tenaciously fought this heresy.

He was described by the future Pius II, then a Bishop, as “small, old, dry, thin, wasted, nothing but skin and bones. Always cheerful and tireless, he preached often to audiences of twenty or thirty thousand people. He used to resolve the most difficult questions to the satisfaction of both the simple and the erudite.”

After the fall of Constantinople at Islamic hands, he preached the Crusade against the Muslim Turks, exhorting Catholics to raise an army to resist the invaders, who were threatening Christendom by their victorious march into the northwest of Europe. At age 70 he was commissioned by Pope Callistus II as delegate and adviser for the war against the Turks.

He traveled to Belgrade to encourage the 40,000 Catholic soldiers who were surrounded by Mohammed II. By a clever feint, he got past the Turkish guard, entered the city and began to preach constancy in the fight and confidence in the victory. All of Christendom was praying for a successful outcome for the city. The soldiers, under the influence of the Saint, fought and prayed. John Capistrano accompanied the troops in their more difficult maneuvers: the surprise attacks and recoups. Although he took the greatest risks, he was never wounded by a single bullet. It was due to him, above all, that Belgrade was saved. This victory stalled the Turkish invasion, which in turn saved all of Europe.

Then, worn out from the battle, he was taken in the field by the bubonic plague. A few months later, he died in 1486 in the Franciscan Monastery of Villach, Austria.

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