Go and win, save Christianity!

Jerzy Waclawski

In her history Poland saved Europe against the deadly threats twice: in 1683 from the Turkish invasion and in 1920 from the Bolshevik ideology.
We have just celebrated the anniversary of the Battle of Vienna, which undoubtedly saved Europe from Islam and might have saved from the Turkish rule for many centuries. Historians regard the battle as one of the most important battles that decided about the fate of the world and Christian civilisation.

Before the throne of Mary

On 31 March 1683, the Turkish forces gathered near Belgrade under the command of Vizier Kara Mustafa began marching towards Vienna. In the middle of July the Turks reached the walls of the capital of the Austrian Empire. Both Emperor Leopold I and Pope Innocent XI sent envoys to King John III Sobieski, informing him about the siege and asking him for help. Recognising the seriousness of the situation the king ordered an immediate concentration of his forces in the commons in the outskirts of Krakow, and not waiting for the delayed allied Lithuanian forces he set out through Raciborz, Czestochowa, Olomuniec and Brno towards Vienna. When he reached Czestochowa on 24 July he got off his horse and walked as a pilgrim to the Jasna Gora monastery. He prayed long and fervently in front of the Picture of Mary, asking her for a successful expedition. The Pauline Fathers gave him a copy of the Miraculous Picture of Our Lady and the sabre of his ancestor Hetman Zolkiewski, which he had offered to the monks with the order to pass it to the hands of some worthy successor.
The King realised that if the Turks seized the Austrian capital they would attack the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth, especially that the Grand Vizier had announced his next expeditions against Krakow and Rome, wanting to change St Peter’s basilica into a stable for his horses. Sobieski clearly felt the burden of responsibility for the future of Europe and the whole Christianity. He also appreciated the importance of the words of the Jasna Gora prior when he gave him the sabre of Zolkiewski, ‘Carry it; go and win, save Christianity!’
Who knows whether instead to Rome we would have made pilgrimages to Mecca and Medina if there had not been the victory of Vienna?

Destination: Vienna

On the way to Vienna the Polish troops hacked through the thick bushes and vineyards on the hills surrounding the capital, using the local Hungarian guides. The lay of the land and its loose development ensured a save march and the possibility to launch a fully surprising attack against the Turks that besieged the city. Several days earlier the Austrian forces commanded by Charles, Duke of Lorraine, and the German forces led by Field Marshal Wadeck had joined the Polish army near Tulln. When the allied forces reached the hill of Kahlenberg near Vienna on 11 September they saw a broad valley of the little river, falling mildly towards the buildings. From this hill Sobieski could observe every, even the slightest, movement of the Turk units. A red banner with a white cross was raised on the hilltop. Being visible from afar it was to encourage the defenders of the besieged city, informing them about the relief they had expected. The king ordered to build a field altar on the ruins of the hermitage, which the Turks had plundered. He put the copy of the Jasna Gora picture he had brought as a relic dear to him.
The continual Turkish attacks and heavy fire as well as shortages made the defenders of Vienna be at the end of their tether. After the ring of the Turkish forces had tightened and the defenders lacked food and ammunition, Leopold I left the capital and went to Linz. In this situation, by virtue of the Polish-Austrian treaty, to which a considerable contribution was made by Pope Innocent XI who had predicted a confrontation between Islam and Christianity in the territory of Europe, Sobieski became the commander-in-chief and was obliged to work out some strategy. This treaty assumed mutual military help in case of threat towards any signatory and command over the whole forces by the ruler who would reach the battle field first.

‘Joane vinces’

On Sunday morning, 12 September, the papal legate Capuchin Marco d’Aviano celebrated Mass during which the king himself served as an altar-boy. Towards the end of the Mass the celebrant, addressing the Polish ruler and the warriors gathered at Kahlenberg, uttered the meaningful and prophetic words, ‘Joane vinces’ (John, you will win).
Desiring to give the enemy a final and crushing blow Sobieski planned to launch the attack for two days. However, the first hours of fighting showed the unavoidable defeat of the allied forces, outnumbered by the Turkish army (only 70,000 allied men against 170,000 Turks). Then the desperate king led the Polish hussars himself and their bravado, determination and courage caused that the scales of victory tipped to the allied forces hour by hour. When the huge mass of 20,000 horses, the heavy cavalry charged at the disoriented and surprised Turkish troops the battle seemed to be prejudged. The Turks fled in panic in the direction of Belgrade. The Grand Vizier Kara Mustafa deserted, too. However, during his shameful escape he was killed at the command of Sultan Mehmet IV, for his defeat that ruined the Muslim leaders’ dreams of conquering the whole Europe.
After the crushing defeat of the Turks King John III Sobieski, the Lion of Lechistan as the defeated followers of Muhammad called him, triumphantly entered the liberated city, being enthusiastically greeted by its citizens. In the tent of the Grand Vizier, which the king had captured, he wrote a letter to his wife Marysienka, informing her about the wonderful gratitude of the citizens of the Austrian capital who knelt and kissed his hands and feet. And he wrote about it with great simplicity and slight embarrassment because he knew that it was not man and power of arms that won but it was God that won and saved Christian Europe from the Islamic flood. And in the first church he saw on the way he prostrated and fervently thanked God for the victory. Without any delay he also wrote a letter to Innocent XI, informing the Pope about the defeat of the Turkish forces. He began his letter with the words, ‘Venimus, vidimus, Deus vicit’ (We came, we saw and God conquered).
Having heard the news of the crashing defeat Emperor Leopold I returned to Vienna. The extremely cold meeting of the rulers took place in Schwechat (today’s location of the Vienna airport). Sobieski, astonished at the arrogant behaviour of the emperor who wanted as if to warm himself in the glory of the winner, raising slightly his hat he said, ‘My neighbour, I will be pleased to do you this little favour’ and set off immediately to the borders of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth. And nowadays there is a tablet commemorating this encounter. The tablet is supported by four canon balls. And at Kahlenberg, in St Joseph’s Church, among the frescos commemorating the events related to the relief of Vienna there is a small monument to the hero of this battle – John III Sobieski.
Pope Innocent XI announced the day of 12 September the day of the glory of the Name of the Blessed Virgin Mary to commemorate the victory of Vienna and to honour King John III Sobieski he ordered to mint a medal praising his victory. Additionally, he added the image of an eagle wearing a crown to his papal coat of arms to honour the heroic Polish nation.

Coffee made ‘the Turkish way’?

One more interesting episode was connected with the relief of Vienna. When the Turkish forces surrounding Vienna seemed to gain victory the defenders of Vienna began looking for a daredevil who would go through the Turkish formation, handed the news to the Polish king who was approaching and manage to return to the city. And they promised such a man a huge reward. And there was such a daredevil – Franciszek Jerzy Kulczycki, an emigrant from Sambir. Being a merchant of oriental goods and having traded with the Turks for many years, he knew their language well. Being dressed as a Turk, with a turban on his head, he forced his way through to the king and fulfilling his task he returned to the besieged city and received the promised reward. After the crashing defeat of the Turks the Polish king gave Kulczycki many carriages loaded with bags of coffee that the Turks left fleeing in panic. Acting as a good merchant our countryman used the gift properly and he opened the first coffee shop ‘House under the Blue Bottle’ in Vienna. And until today he is regarded as the one who introduced the custom of drinking Turkish coffee and at the place of his coffee shop in Vienna there is a statue of the heroic merchant, pouring coffee to a cup, which he holds. The coffee must have been made Turkish!

"Niedziela" 37/2010

Editor: Tygodnik Katolicki "Niedziela", ul. 3 Maja 12, 42-200 Czestochowa, Polska
Editor-in-chief: Fr Jaroslaw Grabowski • E-mail: redakcja@niedziela.pl