The Historical Significance of the Date September 11

Those who fail to learn from history are doomed to repeat it.

September the 11th is a significant date in world history.  It was not just an arbitrary date chosen by the Moslem terrorists in 2001 who launched a jihad (Moslem holy war) against the United States, using four American airplanes and flying one plane into the Pentagon, another into a field in Pennsylvania, and two other airplanes into the Trade Towers in New York City.  It also marks the date in 1683 when the Moslem armies of the Ottoman Empire began their attack on the Europe and Christianity with an assault on the city of Vienna, Austria.  Unfortunately, the terrorists of 2001 focused on the wrong date.  They, like the Moslem Turks in 1683, saw the Christian virtues of mercy and tolerance as weakness.  They should have learned the historical lesson from what happened on the day after September 11th.

The Battle of Vienna was meant to be the opening assault in a jihad that was to lead to the Islamic conquest of Europe and the defeat of Christendom.  It was a conquest that was intended to conclude in an Islamic victory celebrated by taking possession of the center of Christian worship, turning the Vatican into a stable for their horses and St. Peter’s Cathedral into a Moslem mosque.  The Turkish army reached Belgrade in late March of 1683.  They were joined by Moslem armies that occupied Transylvania and Hungary and laid siege to the region.  About 150,000 Moslem troops moved westward toward the city of Vienna and were joined by about 40,000 Crimean Tatars.  With the addition of the Tartars, the Ottoman army now had twice as many soldiers as the Imperial army of Austria. 

Meanwhile Pope Innocent III called for the Christian armies of Europe to defend Vienna.  Unfortunately there was discord among the various German states, Austria and Poland on how the war to defeat the Moslem jihad against Europe should be fought.  Europe was further divided by the events of the Protestant Reformation that had seriously fractured the unity between Christian nations.  The king of Poland promised to come to the aid of Vienna with a combined Polish-Lithuanian army and Charles V, Duke of Lorraine, promised to also field an army in defense of Vienna.  However, Austrian Emperor Leopold fled what he considered to be the doomed city with his court and 60,000 Viennese, and to make matters worse, Charles V Duke of Lorraine withdrew his force of 20,000 towards Linz.  This left Count Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg with only 15,000 trained soldiers to defend Vienna.  The Pope’s emissary, Capuchin friar Father Marco d’Aviano, refused to leave the city and stayed as the spiritual advisor to the people of Vienna and the “Holy League” of the combined Christian forces.

The main Turkish army arrived at Vienna on July 14th.  The Moslems laid siege to Vienna and sent the traditional demand for the city to surrender, to renounce Christianity, to embrace Islam, and to pay the required tax of all conquered people.  Count Ernst Rudiger von Starhemberg, with 15,000 troops, 8,700 volunteers, and 370 cannons refused to surrender.  Days before he had received news of the mass murder of a town south of Vienna where the people had surrendered after a similar offer.  Instead of surrendering, von Starhemberg had the people demolish many of the houses around the city walls and remove the debris, leaving an empty area where the Turks would be exposed in an attack.  The Turks began a siege of the city that cut off virtually every means of food supply and continually bombarded the city walls with their cannon as they worked to dig tunnels to undermine the walls.

The city of Vienna had been under siege by the Turks for almost two months when Jan III Sobieski, the king of Poland, prepared to leave for Vienna with a relief expedition during the late summer of 1683.  He departed from Krakow on August the 15th, taking almost every soldier in his army and leaving his own nation virtually undefended.  The army of Lithuania was supposed to join the Polish king in the defense of Vienna, but Jan Kazimierz Sapieha the Younger was delayed by fighting against the Turks in Hungry. Charles V, however, made good on his promise and defeated Moslem forces at Bisambery, 5 km northwest of Vienna and then joined in the defense of Vienna. 

The Battle of Vienna that marked the Moslem assault on Europe began in earnest on September 11th, 1683.  The combined Christian forces of the “Holy League” were vastly outnumbered by the Moslem Turks and Tartars who were confident that they would be able to breach the walls of the city with their cannon after weakening both the people and the walls of the city during the two months of the siege.  Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa celebrated the opening day of the battle for Vienna on September the 11th by executing 30,000 Christian captives. 

The Viennese forces managed to hold off the Moslems on the 11th but the defenders of the city knew they could not survive another day of fighting.  The tide of the battle was turned on September 12th with the arrival of the army of Polish king, Jan III Sobieski.  He had entrusted his kingdom and the success of his army to the protection of the Blessed Virgin, Our Lady of Czestochowa, whose icon was a Polish national treasure.  He accomplished the nearly impossible feat of securing the high ground on the mountain above the battle field and positioned his cannon to fire down on the Ottoman camp. The battle started before all the Christian units were fully deployed when the Ottomans attacked at about 4 AM on September the 12th under the iconic Islamic sign of the crescent moon, seeking to interfere with the deployment of the troops of the “Holy League”.  Charles of Lorraine moved forward with the Imperial army on the left, with the other Holy Roman Imperial forces in the center.  The Ottoman commander, Kara Mustafa, launched a counter-attack with most of his force, but held back some of the elite units for a planned simultaneous assault on the city.  The Ottoman commanders had intended to take Vienna before Jan Sobieski arrived, but time ran out. Their sappers had prepared a large, final detonation to breach the city walls.  In total, ten mines were set to explode but they were located and disarmed by Viennese soldiers.  A large battle commenced as the Polish infantry launched a massive assault on the Ottoman right flank. Instead of focusing on the battle with the relief army, the Ottomans continued their efforts to force their way into the city.

After twelve hours of fighting, the Polish troops continued to hold the high ground on the right. On the flanks, it is recorded that the Polish cavalry slowly emerged from the forest to the cheers of the infantry.  At about 5 PM, the Polish king ordered the cavalry to attack in four groups, three Polish and one from the Holy Roman Empire.  Eighteen thousand horsemen, the famed “Winged Hussars” led by Jan III Sobieski, charged down from the hills; it was the largest cavalry charge in history!  The charge broke the lines of the Ottomans who were exhausted from the long struggle on two fronts. The cavalry headed straight for the Ottoman camp and Kara Mustafa’s headquarters.  Sensing victory, the remaining Viennese garrison sallied out of its defenses to join in the assault.

At the same moment as the cavalry attack, a cloud caused the crescent moon to fade from view; it was an ominous omen for the superstitious Turks.  The Ottoman troops were tired and dispirited following the failure of both the attempt at undermining the walls and making an assault on the city. The arrival of the cavalry turned the tide of battle against them, sending the Moslem Turks into a massive retreat to the south and east by nightfall.  Less than three hours after the cavalry attack, the Christian forces had won the battle and saved Vienna.

The defeat of the Ottoman Turks at Vienna on the 12th of September marked the turning point in the 300-year struggle between the forces of the Christian Central European kingdoms and the Moslem Ottoman Empire.  It was the last attempt by Moslems to expand their power into Europe, and therefore the Battle of Vienna is considered to be one of the decisive battles of world history.  When lauded for his victory, King Jan III Sobieski responded with a variation of Julius Caesar’s famous statement “Vini, vidi, vicit” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”), by replying “Veni, vidi, Deus vicit” (“I came, I saw, God conquered”), giving credit for his victory to God and the intercession of the Virgin Mary.  Ottoman Sultan Mehmet IV blamed Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa, who commanded the Moslem forces, for the defeat of the Moslem armies by the Christian “Holy League” and took his revenge by having the Vizier executed by strangulation for his failure on Christmas Day 1683.

Pope Innocent XI commemorated the victory of the Christian armies over the armies of Islam by giving credit for the victory to the Virgin Mary.  He moved the feast of the Holy Name of Mary, which used to be celebrated on the Sunday within the Octave of the Nativity of Mary and had only observed in Spain and the Kingdom of Naples, to September the 12th and made it a feast day to be celebrated by the universal Church in every nation.  It is a feast we continue to celebrate on the 12th of September.  Father Marco d’Aviano, who played a spiritual role in the defense of the city of Vienna, was beatified by Pope John Paul II in 2003. 

The Icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa (also known as the Black Madonna of Czestochowa) to whom King Jan III Sobieski entrusted his nation and gave credit for the success of the Battle of Vienna is a revered icon of the Virgin Mary and the child Jesus.  The origins of the icon and the date of its composition are still hotly contested among scholars, but they do agree that Prince Wladyslaw brought it to the monastery of Jasna Gora in Czestochowa, Poland in the 14th century.  Most art historians believe the original painting was a Byzantine icon created in the sixth or ninth century.  In the icon, the Virgin Mary is shown as the Hodegetria (the “One Who Shows the Way”).  The Virgin directs the viewer’s attention away from herself as she gestures with her right hand toward the child Jesus who is the source of our salvation.  In turn, Jesus extends his right hand toward the viewer, offering His blessing while holding a book of the Gospels in his left hand.  The scars on the Virgin’s face were made by a Hussite raider who tried to destroy the icon in 1430.  Many attempts have been made to restore the painting, but the scars always return.

icon of Our Lady of Czestochowa Marek Czarnecki

Michal Hunt, Copyright © 2014 Agape Bible Study. Permissions All Rights Reserved.