Pope St. Pius V is described as one of history's greatest popes. As Christopher Check writes:
During his six-year reign, he promulgated the Council of Trent, published the works of Thomas Aquinas, issued the Roman Catechism and a new missal and breviary, created twenty-one cardinals, excommunicated Queen Elizabeth, and, aided by St. Charles Borromeo, led the reform of a soft and degenerate clergy and episcopacy.
Pius V chose a 24 year old Austrian with a deep devotion to the Blessed Mother to lead the Holy League of Catholics from many countries to fight back the Muslim Turks' attempts to control the Mediterranean.
Taking the young warrior by the shoulders, Pius V looked Don John of Austria in the eye and declared, "The Turks, swollen by their victories, will wish to take on our fleet, and God—I have the pious presentiment—will give us victory. Charles V gave you life. I will give you honor and greatness. Go and seek them out!"Priests offered Mass and heard confessions before the battle. Pius V asked the faithful to go to their churches and say the rosary. Every man in the fleet was given a rosary.
As the Holy League approached the Muslim fleet they were rowing directly against the wind. Miraculously, the wind shifted 180 degrees and blew at their back. They unfurled a banner which had been given them by Pius V with an image of our crucified Lord.
Before word had reached Pius V, he had a vision the victory of the Battle of Lepanto while consulting with his cardinals. He told them, "Let us set aside our business and fall on our knees in thanksgiving to God, for he has given our fleet a great victory."
As Christopher Check outlines, the celebration of the Victory at Lepanto eventually led to the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary as follows:
Timeline for the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary
- In thanksgiving for the victory at Lepanto on the first Sunday of October 1571, Pope St. Pius V ordered that a commemoration of the Rosary should be made on that day.
- At the request of the Dominican Order, in 1573 Pope Gregory XIII allowed the feast to be kept in all churches with an altar dedicated to the Holy Rosary.
- In 1671, the observance of the feast was extended by Pope Clement X to the whole of Spain.
- Pope Clement XI extended the feast to the universal Church after the important victory over the Turks gained by Prince Eugene on August 6, 1716, the feast of our Lady of the Snows, at Peterwardein in Hungary.