During the fifteenth century, the image of Our Lady of Good Counsel miraculously flew over the Adriatic Sea to Genazzano, Italy, where she found great faith and many jubilant devotees. She mysteriously came from the city of Scutari in Albania, where she had stayed for over two centuries working many miracles and solving countless spiritual problems.
The event leading to her departure from Albania is a marvelous story that is part of her legend. Our Lady left her former shrine in Scutari following the death of her last faithful king in those lands. The errors of Islam then took over, and Catholics were persecuted.
His Name was Skanderbeg
In January of 1497, in the Albanian city of Lissa, the great defender of Christendom and scourge of the Muslim hordes lay in his final agony. The sweat rolled off his noble brow while his ashen face looked upon the mournful crowd about his bed. Suddenly, the whole city was paralyzed by the terrifying cry that the Turks were coming and marching through the city’s gates.
The panic-stricken crowd feared defeat without the leadership of their invincible leader. However, their cries quickly turned into jubilation. Skanderbeg, Our Lady’s Albanian Champion, miraculously rose from his dying agony and called all his men to arms.
After donning his armor and sword, he rode out at the head of his outnumbered band and decimated the Islamic ranks. After seeing his most feared enemy still alive, the surprised Islamic commander Mahomet II retreated in disgrace.
With the confidence of a true devotee of Our Lady of Good Counsel, Scanderbeg vanquished the enemy with cunning and power only possible with the aid of the Queen of Heavenly Hosts. Nonetheless, the rejoicing of the city returned to grief when the victorious yet humble conqueror returned to his bed and gave up his soul to God.
A Catholic Champion in Muslim Captivity
Not much is known about his earlier years. When still young, George Castriota, more commonly known as Scanderbeg, was given as hostage as part of an accord with the Turks then ravaging Christian Albania in 1423.
As the son of King John Castriota, Skanderbeg stood out for his surprising aptitude for command and was specially trained as an elite Janissary. The Mohammedan ruler, Amurath II, recognized the stellar abilities of both mind and body and educated him as if he were his son. Thus, Scanderbeg learned four different languages besides his own, trained in every branch of the Turkish military and excelled in everything asked of him. He was even given an early command in Asia and defeated opposing Moslem sectarians, Amurath II’s enemies.
However, either unknown or overlooked by Amurath, Scanderbeg rejected the religion of Islam, retained his faith and kept his devotion to Our Lady of Good Counsel. This devotion gave him confidence under pressure and cunning in battle.
The Power of Confidence in Our Lady
While Scanderbeg remained within the Muslim ranks, he fought against the different Islamic sects opposing Amurath. However, he was soon sent to Albania to fight against his Christian brothers.
He noticed in his army a large number of fellow Albanians deeply rooted in their devotion to the Madonna of Scutari. He then made the difficult and irreversible decision to break with Amurath. Filled with confidence in Our Lady’s intercession, the day of reckoning came during a pitched battle with the Christian army sent to fight against him.
He took the field in full battle array with his usual air of confidence and determination, causing Amurath to believe that nothing was amiss. However, Scanderbeg had his own plans. As his Albanian company charged headlong towards the Christian frontline, he sounded the call to reverse the charge. His men then attacked the terror-stricken Moslem troops, who fled in disbelief. Amurath, who expected victory just minutes before, left the field in utter defeat.
Odds Mean Nothing to the Lord of Heavenly Hosts
This success was the beginning of the end for the Moslem armies. No matter the odds, Our Lady’s champion never surrendered.
Enraged with Scanderbeg, Amurath twice sent hand-picked troops to destroy the heavily outnumbered Christian forces. Once he took as many fighting men as he could muster into Albania, taking city after city until arriving at the walls of Croja, where Scanderbeg came to meet him.
Once again, Skanderbeg placed total confidence in the Madonna of Scutari, who granted him victory. In his book on the Virgin of Genazzano, Monsignor Dillon writes, “With energy almost superhuman, he swept unexpectedly, now here and now there, by night and by day, into the midst of the foe; every swordsman of his band hewed down scores, and his own blade flashed like lightning and caused Muslim heads to fall like snowflakes where he passed.”
Finding his once magnificent army in total ruin, Amurath II crept back to his capital in Adrianople and died of grief.
The Muslims eventually saw no reason to continue their humiliations and signed a peace agreement in 1461. Scanderbeg stood the victor, and Our Lady had gained many devotees during this time of peril.
Schism Rejects God and Our Lady Follows
Unfortunately, this devotion did not last. The influence of the Greek schismatics found acceptance among the Albanian people, and bitterness towards Rome and Catholicism took root. With their apostasy, the Albanians fell from the heights of Christianity into the depths of vice, just like that of the pagan empires of old. Father Dillon wrote, “[Albania] sinned as did Babylon…The pride, and delirium of pleasures turned its reason.”
After the death of the pious king, the Turks returned and dominated the nation. The danger of the Turks prompted Blessed Mother to leave the land miraculously and settle in the grateful city of Genazzano, which became Our Lady of Good Counsel’s new dwelling place.
A Call to Remain Faithful
This often-overlooked piece of history should be a wake-up call for Catholics worldwide. The modern world has fallen into immorality and infidelity caused by the Sexual Revolution. Blasphemies and sacrileges are everywhere. How much longer will it be before the nations are chastised for their sins like the Albanians in the fifteenth century? Will they convert, or will they force Our Lady to flee?
Scanderbeg teaches that nothing is impossible with Our Lord and His Blessed Mother. Even now, it is possible to combat sin and convert. All must turn their eyes to the Blessed Virgin, plead for her intercession and fight the advance of evil with total confidence in her.
Photo Credit: © d_proffer – WIKIMEDIA COMMONS