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Eight Hundred Men of Otranto
who knew how to die well -- and so saved Rome

[COMMENT:  Muslims (and others) who complain about the Crusades are either ignorant or deceitful.  The Crusades were a defensive reaction to the terrible aggression of the Muslims, which has been their strategy right from the beginning -- whenever they have the upper hand (or think they do).  The Crusades were not always well conducted -- true of any war in history.  But they were promoted by the Church for the purpose of freeing the Holy Land as a safe place for pilgrims.  The Crusades would never have happened had the Muslims allowed Christian and Jewish pilgrims to the Holy Land. 

See the 800 Martyrs of Otranto, and the Battle at Leponto for information on the brutality of Muslims.  Their critiques of the Crusades are completely self-serving.  Nowhere, not ever in Christendom has there ever been the kind of brutality which is common among Muslims. 

Well, one exception -- the religious wars in the post-Reformation Europe -- where Christians were savagely killing each other -- leading more than anything else to the rejection by Europeans of the Christian faith -- and rightly so.  Except that it was not Jesus who ordered this brutality.  It was self-centered Christians who had given up on reason as part of the Christian spiritual life.  Christians had deserted their Lord.   

Islam is an evil religion, not first because it is mean and nasty, but first because it slanders God, it slanders Allah (the Arabic word for 'god').  Islam attributes to Allah activity and intentions which by any reasonable standard are evil.  But, as the Pope pointed out, Muslims do not believe that God holds Himself accountable to either logic or morality.  That is blasphemy. 

So when Muslims create moral havoc "in the name of Allah", they are not rejecting their vision of God, they are embracing it. 

In the Jihad we see Muslims not afraid to die.  They are willing to die to enslave the rest of the world under this tyrant image of God. 

Faithful Christians are also willing to die.   But Christians die to set the world free, not to enslave it.  The Biblical worldview is the only possible foundation for rational morality, and thus the only possible foundation for a free government.  Political freedom can be sustained only under the law and grace of God.  All others drift into centralization and tyranny. 

The Muslim world of the last several centuries is too incompetent, too chaotic, too self-destructive, too contrary to stable politics or science and academics to mount the global offensive we see today.  They could do this only with the help of people like the Globalists, those who own the multi-national corporations and banks, who literally own most of the world, or, at least, controlling interest. They are using the Muslims for their own purposes.  The current political and cultural scene makes no sense otherwise. 

We must force the Globalists out into the open -- be willing to die like the men of Otranto, to force truth into the open and stand with God.  

But in the meantime, we must also minister to Muslims who believe the  warped image which Islam pastes on Allah.  Allah (God) is not a criminal.  He is supremely honorable and holds Himself to truth and righteousness.  He condemns all that is not of truth and all that destroys life.  We must challenge Muslims to stop blaspheming Allah (God).  Such a warped version of God is only our human attempts to justify our own unreason and criminal activity and desire.  God does not appreciate our pasting on Him our sins, our unreasonable and chaotic and power oriented lifestyles.    E. Fox]
 

How the Eight Hundred Men of Otranto Saved Rome

They were martyred five centuries ago in the easternmost region of Italy, the spot most exposed to attack from the Muslims. The objective of the caliph Mohammed II was to conquer Rome, after having already taken Constantinople. But he was stopped by Christians who were ready to defend the faith with their blood

by Sandro Magister

ROMA, August 14, 2007 – The Roman Martyrology, the liturgical calendar of saints and blesseds updated according to the decrees of Vatican Council II and promulgated by John Paul II, shows that today the Church remembers and venerates...

“... the approximately eight hundred martyrs of Otranto, in Puglia, pressured to renounce the faith after the crushing assault of the Ottoman soldiers. They were exhorted by blessed Antonio Primaldo, an elderly tailor, to persevere in Christ, and thus through decapitation they obtained the crown of martyrdom.”

The martyrdom of these eight hundred men took place in 1480, on August 14, the day of their liturgical commemoration.

It was because of them that five centuries later, in 1980, John Paul II visited Otranto, the Italian city in which they were martyred.

And this year, on July 6, Benedict XVI definitively authenticated their martyrdom, with a decree promulgated by the congregation for the causes of the saints.

But who were the eight hundred men of Otranto? And why were they killed? Their story is of extraordinary relevance – just like the conflict between Islam and Christianity, in the midst of which they sacrificed their lives.

This is presented in the account that follows – it appeared last July 14 in “il Foglio” – written by Alfredo Mantovano, a Catholic jurist, senator, and a son of the same land that produced those martyrs, born in southern Puglia, the region of Otranto.

“Ready to die a thousand times for Him...”

by Alfredo Mantovano

On July 6, 2007, Benedict XVI received a visit from the prefect of the congregation for the causes of saints, cardinal José Saraiva Martins, and authorized the publication of the decree of authentication for the martyrdom of blessed Antonio Primaldo and his lay companions, “killed out of hatred for the faith” in Otranto on August 14, 1480.

Antonio Primaldo’s is the only name that has come down to us. His companions in martyrdom were eight hundred unknown fishermen, craftsmen, shepherds, and farmers from a small town, whose blood, five centuries ago, was shed solely because they were Christian.

Eight hundred men, who five centuries ago suffered the treatment reserved in 2004 for the American antenna repairman Nick Berg, captured by Islamic terrorists in Iraq and killed to the cry of “Allah is great!” His executioner, after cutting his jugular, drew the blade around his neck until his head was detached, and then held this up as a trophy. Exactly as the Ottoman executioner did in 1480 to each of the eight hundred men from Otranto.

* * *

There is a prologue to this mass execution. In the early morning hours of July 29, 1480, from the walls of Otranto there could be seen on the horizon an approaching fleet composed of 90 galleys, 15 galleasses, and 48 galliots, with 18,000 soldiers on board. The armada was led by the pasha Ahmed, under the orders of Mohammed II, called Fatih, the Conqueror, the sultan who in 1451, at just 21 years of age, had become head of the Ottoman tribe, which had replaced the mosaic of Islamic emirates a century and a half earlier.

In 1453, at the head of an army of 260,000 Turks, Mohammed II had conquered Byzantium, the “second Rome,” and from that moment he developed the plan of wiping out the “first Rome,” Rome true and proper, and of turning Saint Peter’s basilica into a stall for his horses.

In June of 1480, he judged the time was right to go into action: he lifted the siege from Rhodes, which was defended courageously by its knights, and directed his fleet toward the Adriatic Sea. His intention was to land at Brindisi, which had an excellent, spacious harbor: from Brindisi, he planned to move northward up Italy until he reached the see of the papacy. But a strong contrary wind forced the ships to touch ground fifty miles to the south, and to disembark in a place called Roca, a few kilometers from Otranto.

* * *

Otranto was – and is – the easternmost city in Italy. It has a rich history: the immediate vicinity was probably inhabited in the Paleolithic period, and certainly from the Neolithic age. It was then populated by the Messapi, a race prior to the Greeks that was conquered by them, migrated to Magna Graecia, and fell into the hands of the Romans, becoming a Roman town.

The importance of its harbor had given it the role of a bridge between East and West, a role consolidated on the cultural and political level by the presence of an important monastery of Basilian monks, the monastery of San Nicola in Casole, of which a couple of columns remain on the road that leads to Leuca.

In 1095, in its splendid cathedral church built between 1080 and 1088, the blessing was imparted to the twelve thousand crusaders who, under the command of prince Boemondo I d’Altavilla, were leaving to liberate and protect the Holy Sepulcher in Jerusalem. And on his return from the Holy Land, it was in Otranto that saint Francis of Assisi landed in 1219, and was received with great honor.

* * *

When the Ottomans disembarked, the city’s garrison numbered just 400 men at arms, so the captains of the guard quickly sent a missive asking for help to the king of Naples, Ferrante d’Aragona.

With the castle under siege and all the city’s inhabitants inside it, the pasha Ahmed, through a messenger, proposed a surrender with advantageous conditions: if they did not resist, the men and women would be set free and would not face any sort of punishment. The response came from one of the city’s leading citizens, Ladislao De Marco: if the assailants wanted Otranto, he let it be understood, they would have to take it by force.

It was intimated to the messenger that he should not come back, and when a second messenger arrived with the same proposal for a surrender, he was riddled with arrows. To remove any doubt, the captains took the keys to the city gates, mounted a tower, and in the sight of the people cast them into the sea. During the night, many of the soldiers of the guard lowered themselves over the city walls with ropes and fled. Only the inhabitants remained to defend Otranto.

* * *

What followed was a relentless siege: the Turkish bombardment rained down upon the city hundreds of huge stones (many of these can still be seen along the streets of the city’s historic center). After fourteen days, at dawn on August 12, the Ottomans focused their fire on one of the weakest points along the walls: they opened a breach and poured into the streets, massacring anyone in their path, and came to the cathedral, where many had taken refuge. They broke down the doors and flooded into the temple, where they found the archbishop, Stefano, who was there in his pontifical vestments and with the crucifix in his hand. To the order that he no longer speak the name of Christ, because from that moment Mohammed was in command, the archbishop responded by exhorting the assailants to conversion, and at this his head was cut off with a scimitar.

On August 13, Ahmed asked for and obtained a list of the captured inhabitants, excluding the women and the boys under the age of 15.

* * *

This is the account by Saverio de Marco in the “Compendiosa istoria degli ottocento martiri otrantini [A brief history of the eight hundred martyrs of Otranto]” published in 1905:

“About one hundred men were presented to the pasha, who had at his side a miserable priest named Giovanni from Calabria, an apostate from the faith. He employed his satanic eloquence for the goal of persuading the Christians that they should abandon Christ and embrace Mohammedanism, sure of the good graces of Ahmed, who would grant them their lives, possessions, and all the benefits they enjoyed in their homeland: otherwise they would all be massacred. Among those heroes was a man named Antonio Primaldo, a tailor, advanced in age but full of religion and fervor. In the name of all, he replied: ‘Would that all believed in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, and were ready to die a thousand times for him'."

The first of the chroniclers, Giovanni Michele Laggetto, adds, in the “Historia della guerra di Otranto del 1480 [Story of the war of Otranto in 1480],” transcribed from an ancient manuscript and published in 1924:

“And turning to the Christians, Primaldo spoke these words: ‘My brothers, until today we have fought in defense of our homeland, to save our lives, and for our earthly governors; now it is time for us to fight to save our souls for our Lord. And since he died on the cross for us, it is fitting that we should die for him, remaining firm and constant in the faith, and with this earthly death we will earn eternal life and the glory of martyrdom.’ At these words, all began to shout with one voice and with great fervor that they wanted to die a thousand times, by any sort of death, rather than renounce Christ.”

* * *

Ahmed condemned all the eight hundred prisoners to death. The following morning, they were led with ropes tied around their necks and their hands bound behind their backs to the Hill of Minerva, a few hundred meters outside of the city. De Marco writes:

“All of them repeated their profession of the faith and the generous response they had given at first, so the tyrant commanded that the decapitation should proceed, and, before the others, the head of the elderly Primaldo should be cut off. Primaldo was hateful to him, because he never stopped acting as an apostle toward his fellows. And before placing his head upon the stone, he told his companions that he saw heaven opened and the comforting angels; that they should be strong in the faith and look to heaven, already open to receive them. He bowed his head and it was cut off, but his corpse stood back up on its feet, and despite the efforts of the butchers, it remained erect and unmoving, until all were decapitated. The marvelous and astonishing event would have been a lesson of salvation for those infidels, if they had not been rebels against the light that enlightens every man who lives in the world. Only one of the butchers, named Berlabei, believed courageously in the miracle and, declaring himself a Christian in a loud voice, was condemned to be impaled.”

During the beatification process for the eight hundred, in 1539, four eyewitnesses spoke of the prodigy of Antonio Primaldo, who remained standing after being decapitated, and of the conversion and martyrdom of the executioner. This is the account of one of the four, Francesco Cerra, who in 1539 was 72 years old:

“Antonio Primaldo was the first to be slaughtered, and without his head he remained upright on his feet, nor could any of the efforts of the enemy knock him down, until all were killed. The butcher, stunned by the miracle, confessed that the Catholic faith was the true one, and insisted on becoming a Christian, and for this the pasha condemned him to death by impaling.”

* * *

Five hundred years later, on October 5, 1980, John Paul II visited Otranto to remember the sacrifice of the eight hundred.

It was a splendid, sunny morning on the plain below the Hill of Minerva, which was renamed the Hill of the Martyrs in 1480. The Polish pope took the occasion to issue an invitation as relevant today as it was then:

“Let us not forget the martyrs of our times. Let us not behave as if they did not exist.”

The pope exhorted his hearers to look overseas, and expressly recalled the sufferings of the people of Albania, subjected to one of the most ferocious realizations of communism, although no one was paying attention to them at the time. He emphasized that “the blessed martyrs of Otranto have left us two essential gifts: love for one’s earthly homeland and the authenticity of the Christian faith. The Christian loves his earthly homeland. Love of country is a Christian virtue.”

* * *

The sacrifice of the eight hundred men of Otranto was not important solely on the level of faith. The city’s two-week resistance permitted the army of the king of Naples to organize and to approach that area, blocking the eighteen thousand Ottomans from invading the entire region of Puglia.

The chroniclers of the time do not exaggerate when they affirm that the safety of southern Italy was guaranteed by Otranto: and not only that, if it is true that news of the city’s fall initially induced the reigning pope, Sixtus IV, to plan to move to Avignon, in the fear that the Ottomans might draw nearer to Rome.

The pope renounced this intention when king Ferrante of Naples charged his son Alfonso, the duke of Calabria, to move to Puglia, and entrusted to him the task of reconquering Otranto. This took place on September 13, 1481, after Ahmed had returned to Turkey and Mohammed II had died.

* * *

What makes this extraordinary episode so significant, even for today’s European, is that in the history of Christianity there has never been a lack of witnesses to the faith and to civic values, nor has there been a lack of men who have courageously confronted extreme trials. But there has never been an episode of such vast collective proportions: an entire city that at first battles as it is able and survives for a number of days under siege, and then firmly rejects the proposal to abjure the faith. On the Hill of Minerva, apart from the elderly Antonio Primaldo, no other individual personality emerged, if it is true that the names of the other eight hundred martyrs are unknown: proof of the fact that it was not individual heroes, but rather an entire population that faced the trial.

* * *

All of this also took place because of the indifference of the political leaders of Europe at the time, in the face of the Ottoman menace.

In 1459, pope Pius II had convened a congress in Mantua to which he invited the heads of the Christian states, and in the introductory address had outlined their faults in the face of the Turkish onslaught. But although it was decided at that meeting that war should be waged to contain the onslaught, nothing happened afterward, because of the opposition of Venice and the disinterest of Germany and France.

After the Muslims conquered the island of Negroponte, which belonged to Venice, a new alliance proposed by Pope Paul II was undermined by the lords of Milan and Florence, who were eager to gain from the critical situation in which Venice found itself.

During the next decade, with Sixtus IV who became pontiff in 1471, there was the assassination of Galeazzo Sforza, the duke of Milan; the anti-Roman alliance in 1474 among Milan, Venice, and Florence; the Florentine Pazzi Conspiracy of 1478 and the war that followed between the pope and the king of Naples on one side, and Florence, Milan, Venice, and France on the other... All of this brought great advantage to the Ottomans, as Ludwig von Pastor writes in his “History of the Popes”:

“Lorenzo the Magnificent, who had warned Ferrante not join in the games and ambitions of the foreigners, was the very one who appealed to Venice to strike an agreement with the Turks and spur them on to assault the Adriatic coast of the kingdom of Naples, for the purpose of upsetting the plans of Ferdinando and his son. [...] Venice, which signed a truce with the Turks in 1479, adhered to the plan of Lorenzo the Magnificent in the hope of turning toward Puglia the Muslim tide that at any moment could attack Dalmatia, where the Venetian flag of Saint Mark was raised. [...] And the men of Lorenzo the Magnificent did not even hesitate [...] to solicit Mohammed II to invade the territory of the king of Naples, reminding him of the various injuries he had received from him. But the sultan had no need of this advice: he had been waiting for 21 years for the right moment to land in Italy, and until then it had been Venice, his direct adversary on the sea, that had been preventing this.”

* * *

Even if history never exactly repeats itself, it is nevertheless not arbitrary to gather analogies and comparisons from its developments: exactly one thousand years after 480, the year of the birth of Saint Benedict of Norcia – a humble monk to whose work Europe owes so much of its identity – other lowly men understood Europe better than their leaders did, men who were more ready to fight each other than to confront the common enemy.

When the inhabitants of Otranto found themselves facing the Ottoman scimitars, they did not find in the disinterest of their kings a reason to quit themselves; strong in the culture in which they had been raised, although many of them had never learned the alphabet, they were convinced that resisting and not abjuring the faith was the most natural choice. Try talking today with a Western soldier who has returned from a mission in Iraq or Afghanistan: what one hears most frequently is their amazement at the discussions and the endless disagreements over our presence in those regions. For these soldiers, it is natural that they should go to help those in need of support, and guarantee the security of reconstruction against terrorist attacks.

In Otranto in 1480, no one displayed rainbow pacifist flags, nor invoked international resolutions, nor asked for a meeting of the municipal council so that the zone might be declared as demilitarized; no one chained himself beneath the city walls to “construct peace.”

For two weeks, the fifteen thousand inhabitants of the city boiled oil and water, until they had none left, and poured it over the walls onto the assailants. And when the eight hundred adult men still alive were captured, they went willingly to meet the same fate that the Iraqis, Afghans, Americans, English, Italians, and others meet in Iraq and Afghanistan when they are kidnapped by terrorists. Eight hundred heads were cut off one after another, with no politically correct newsmen to censor the account. If today we have thorough knowledge of this extraordinary event, it is because those who described it were objective and rigorous.

* * *


Today Europe is under attack not – as in the preceding historical episode – by an institutionally organized Islamic phalanx, but by a patchwork of non-governmental organizations of ultra-fundamentalist Muslims. Keeping in mind this structural difference, it is not out of place to ask how much there is today in the West, in Europe, in Italy, of that “naturalness” that led an entire community to “defend the peace of their land” to the point of making the ultimate sacrifice.

The question is not out of place, if one considers that a truly decisive element in the struggle against terrorism is the solidity of the social body, or in any case of a large part of it, in the face of the threat and of its most bloodthirsty manifestations. The memory of Otranto does not merely emphasize that there are times when resistance is a duty, but even before this it reminds us of who we are and from what community we come.

* * *


It is important to recall that in 1571, ninety years after the martyrdom of Otranto, a fleet of ships supplied by Christian states arrested the Turko-Islamic advance into the Mediterranean, in the sea battle of Lepanto.

The scenario had not improved in Europe: France was in league with the German Protestant princes in opposition to the Hapsburgs, and took satisfaction in the pressure that the Turks were applying against the Hapsburg Empire in the Mediterranean. Paris and Venice had not moved a finger to defend the Knights of Malta from the naval siege conducted against them by Suleiman the Magnificent. This means that the victory of Lepanto was not the fruit of the convergence of political interests; on the contrary, it was accomplished in spite of the divergences. The extraordinary thing about Lepanto is that in spite of everything, for once the princes, politicians, and military commanders were able to set aside their divisions and unite to defend Europe.

This union was realized above all because the European politics of the sixteenth century preserved what was essentially a shared vision of the world, founded upon Christianity and the natural law. And if today so many agnostic minds inhabit Europe in complete freedom, this is in part because there were those who in their day gave their time, energy, and even their lives for the good cause, when the victory of the enemy would have put Italy – and possibly Spain – into Muslim hands.

* * *


Otranto teaches us that a culturally homogeneous civilization – or even one predominantly animated by realistic principles – is capable of reacting in a substantially unified manner in defense of its own peace, and can do this without trampling upon its own identity and dignity.

Today, Roman-Germanic Christendom no longer exists as a homogeneous civilization. Nor is the thesis valid according to which Christendom, as long as it existed, was a mirror image of the Islamic community. Three structural differences prevent any sort of overlapping or analogy with respect to the Islamic “umma”: in Christendom, there was a distinction between the political and religious spheres, there was a foundation of natural law, and there was respect for the conscience of the human person. Reflection on what happened in 1480 nevertheless permits us to identify three pillars around which unity can be restored: the reference to natural law, the rediscovery of the Christian roots of Europe, and love of country, which was explicitly evoked by John Paul II as an inheritance from the martyrs of Otranto.

* * *


In Sacred Scripture, when God informed Abraham of his intention to destroy Sodom and Gomorrah (Genesis 18:16 ff.), Abraham tried to intercede, and asked him: “Will you sweep away the innocent with the guilty? Suppose there were fifty innocent people in the city; would you wipe out the place, rather than spare it for the sake of the fifty innocent people within it?” Having received God’s assurance that he would pardon the entire city for the sake of those fifty just men, Abraham continues, in a sort of gutsy negotiation: and if there were only 45, 40, 30, 20, or only 10? God’s reply is the same: “For the sake of those ten, I will not destroy it.” But there were not 50, or 45, or 30, or 20, or even 10; and the two cities were destroyed.

This page of Scripture is terrifying because of the fate of annihilation that it projects for civilizations that reject the values that are inscribed in human nature. It is a page that has been sorrowfully reread over and over, especially in the twentieth century, in the face of the ravages of Nazism and communist socialism. But it just as comforting to those who maintain that the centrality of man and adherence to principles is not only the point of departure, but also the strategy for anyone who wants to practice politics.

* * *

In 1480, that passage from Genesis found a unique application: Europe, and in particular its most important city, Rome, were spared from destruction not “for the sake,” but rather “through the sacrifice” of eight hundred unknown fishermen, craftsmen, shepherds, and farmers of a marginal city.

It is striking that what happened in Otranto did not receive, and has still not received, the widespread recognition that it deserves. The Church itself waited for five centuries, and for an extraordinary pontiff like Karol Wojtyla, to beatify those eight hundred men. Benedict XVI’s July 6, 2007 decree authorizes the view that their “martyrdom” really took place, historically and theologically.

This is the premise for their canonization, which will follow when a miracle has been certified. The Church, including that of Otranto, maintains a necessary caution on this point, but everyone knows that the intercession of the eight hundred has already procured many miracles; all that is lacking is official recognition.

The martyrs of Otranto are in no hurry:  their bones, arranged in a number of reliquaries, are waiting to greet those who visit the cathedral, in the chapel located to the right of the main altar.

They remind us that it is not only faith that has a price, but civilization does, too: a price that cannot be measured, and is paradoxically compatible with having received faith and civilization as inestimable gifts.

This price is asked of everyone in a different way, but there is no place for sales or liquidations.

The newspaper from which this account was taken:  > Il Foglio

The articles from www.chiesa on this topic: > Focus on ISLAM

English translation by Matthew Sherry, Saint Louis, Missouri, U.S.A.

Sandro Magister’s e-mail address is s.magister@espressoedit.it

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