Do you know why the Angelus bells ring at noon? The answer traces back to July 22, 1456 and a history-altering battle in Hungary: a coalition of Christian soldiers, under the leadership of János Hunyadi, resisting the Ottoman Turks at Nándorfehérvár, now Belgrade.
Hungarians have commemorated the anniversary of this battle — and the victory — on July 22, after the noon Angelus bells ring out, in front of the statue of Hunyadi in the Castle District of Budapest.
Szilárd Németh, Ministry of Defense's Parliamentary State Secretary, the International Communications Office of Hungary, told Church Militant that the battle represents "a warning to the whole of Europe that the continent must not forget its history. Europe will be lost if it does not protect its own borders and its Christian culture."
Hunyadi had acquired fame as the "scourge of the Turks" (Törökverő) for his bravery in battle and his efforts in rousing support to save Christianity from the encroachment of Islam even before the siege of Nándorfehérvár. He was a devout Catholic, known to leave his bed at night to spend hours praying in the chapel.
In 2011 the Hungarian National Assembly decreed an official day of remembrance for the Battle of Nándorfehérvár, gaining in popularity and becoming "a high priority event," according to the communications office.
Hungarians know the basics of the battle.
The Ottomans, under the leadership of Sultan Mehmet II, had their sights set on Hungary, the gateway to all of Europe, having already taken Constantinople in 1453, converting the Hagia Sophia into a mosque.
The stronghold of Nándorfehérvár on the confluence of the Danube and Sava rivers represented the Ottoman's first step toward that end.
On July 1 the iron doors of the fort closed on 5,000–7,000 Hungarian and Serbian soldiers (depending on the source) under the command of Hunyadi's son-in-law Mihály Szilágyi and his son László. Meanwhile, the well-trained and organized Ottoman vanguards who gathered outside the fort numbered 70,000–160,000 (depending on the source).
On July 4 the sultan began bombarding the strongly fortified city with boulders and fire.
Hunyadi, who had been gathering support and supplies in Hungary, arrived with his fleet to a completely encircled city and the Danube blocked by the Ottoman navy. On June 14, his fleet broke through the blockade, allowing much-needed supplies to reach the defenders.
Mehmet breached the walls on July 21, and his soldiers stormed the city.
Hunyadi ordered his men to throw tarred wood and flammable materials to make a wall of flames between the Muslim soldiers fighting in the city and those trying to breach it through the gaps.
Fierce fighting continued though the day and night until the soldiers fell with exhaustion. Mehmet was confident that one more push by his troops after their rest would bring victory and clear the path to Europe.
Saint John of Capistrano was to have said upon seeing the overwhelming odds in favor of the Ottomans, "The Lord who made the beginning will take care of the finish."
Because the peasants were ill-armed and unprotected by armor, Hunyadi told the peasants to avoid the fray. But, by some accounts, the peasant warriors disobeyed Hunyadi's order and harassed the sultan's soldiers by provoking skirmishes outside the fort in the Ottoman camps.
Thrown off by the harassment, the Muslim warriors were "paralyzed by some inexplicable fear," according to chroniclers of the time.
The sultan's forces tried to gain control of their camp, but Hunyadi swept in with his troops, bringing the battle to the Ottoman camps. The isolated Turkish soldiers in the city were trapped.
Hunyadi and his soldiers were victorious.
Pope Callixtus III, who had been monitoring the battle from Rome, on hearing of the victory, ordered Church bells to be rung every day at noon every weekday in honor — and in thanksgiving — of the victory of Hunyadi and his Christian warriors, who staved off the spread of Islam.
The pope called Hunyadi "the most powerful Athlete of Christ" and the day he learned of the victory his "happiest." He knew that Hunyadi's efforts at Nándorfehérvár stalled the Turks from marching into Vienna and then Rome.
"We lost our old apathy which had been caused by the inaction of the Christian princes," the pope said. "And we gave thanks and honor to God and ordered that all Christendom should pray and rejoice at this great victory ... ."
State Secretary Németh told Church Militant, "The midday bells remind us of the fact that we succeeded in stopping the advancing Ottoman army and protecting Europe."
Hungarian Spectrum warns that Hungarians today "must be on guard and follow the example of the heroes of the Battle of Belgrade" and "find a way out from the pressure that is threatening our national identity, culture and Christianity."
The editors add that "what makes the situation today even worse than it was at the beginning of the sixteenth century is the existence of the United Nations and the European Union."
Hunyadi died shortly after the battle, succumbing to the plague that had spread into Belgrade. His last words were a plea for the continued defense of Hungary and Christianity. Saint John of Capistrano died a few weeks later in Ilok, coming to be known as the "soldier-saint."
Viktor Orban, president of Hungary and defender of Hungarian and Christian culture, is sometimes cast — and casts himself — as a modern Hunyadi.
For those interested in learning to pray the Angelus, a free Angelus app is available online.