VATICAN CITY — Rome shook this morning as a massive lightning bolt hit the dome of St. Peter’s Basilica. The strike came on the feast of Our Lady of the Rosary, a celebration with origins not only in a humble prayer, but also in an historic battle.
The bolt hit the dome of St. Peter’s at approximately 9:20 am, as a strong rainstorm passed through Rome. Vatican police confirmed the strike. No damage was reported.
Those close to the Vatican, from Swiss guards to local shop owners, felt the shock.
“I was in the shower and heard what sounded like a loud thunder clap which lasted a few seconds and seemed to shake everything. I knew it was storming but it sounded more like an earthquake than a thunderstorm,” a resident close to St. Peter’s told Aleteia.
A local Italian coffee-bar owner added: “Everything shook. I could feel it in my lungs. It was as though the air was suspended for a moment.”
This morning’s strike recalls the “bolt out of the blue” that hit St. Peter’s on February 11, 2013 — the feast of Our Lady of Lourdes — just hours after Pope Benedict XVI shocked the Vatican with his announcement to resign the papal office.
Today’s strike also comes on a Marian feast: Our Lady of the Rosary.
Originally called Our Lady of Victory, the feast was instituted by Pope St. Pius V to honor the Blessed Virgin Mary for the Christian victory over the Turks at the Battle of Lepanto.
Fr. Steve Grunow, of Bishop Robert Barron’s “Word on Fire,” describes the origins of the feast in this way:
On October 7th, 1571 a fleet of ships assembled by the combined forces of Naples, Sardinia, Venice, the Papacy, Genoa, Savoy and the Knights Hospitallers fought an intense battle with the fleet of the Ottoman Empire. The battle took place in the Gulf of Patras located in western Greece. Though outnumbered by the Ottoman forces, the so-called “Holy League” possessed of superior firepower would win the day. This victory would severely curtail attempts by the Ottoman Empire to control the Mediterranean, causing a seismic shift in international relations from East to West. In some respects, and I do not want this claim to be overstated, the world that we know came into being with this victory. This event is known to history as the “Battle of Lepanto.”
Pope Pius V, whose treasury bankrolled part of this military endeavor, ordered the churches of Rome opened for prayer day and night, encouraging the faithful to petition the intercession of the Blessed Virgin Mary through the recitation of the Rosary. When word reached the Pope Pius of the victory of the Holy League, he added a new feast day to the Roman Liturgical Calendar. October 7th would henceforth be the feast of Our Lady of Victory. Pope Pius’ successor, Gregory XIII would change the name of this day to the feast of the Holy Rosary.
Biographers also report that as the Battle of Lepanto ended, Pope St. Pius V rose and went to a window, where he stood gazing toward the East. Then, turning around, he exclaimed “The Christian fleet is victorious!” and shed tears of thanksgiving.
May today’s “bolt from out of the blue” encourage the Church’s children, in this month dedicated to Mary, to take up the humble yet powerful weapon of the Rosary, as the Barque of Peter continues to battle on the waves of history.