In 1464, we find Scanderbeg in a position to disturb the armed repose of Mahomet. The latter sent his best generals as usual, but as usual, only to hear of their defeat, with incalculable slaughter. At last, the haughty conqueror determined to go himself, at the head of the most numerous and best equipped army his dominions could furnish, against Scanderbeg.
This vast host was divided into two divisions. One, two hundred thousand strong, advanced upon Krujë. Another still more formidable commanded by the sultan in person, followed. Slowly, but in steady conquest, this immense array spread over the land, subduing, as in the time of Amurath, fortress after fortress; and at last, leaving not a particle of ground for Scanderbeg to stand on, but his capital. The first army was met by a handful of hardy Catholic mountaineers, who never deserted their leader; and again, to the wonder of the world, was utterly routed with terrific slaughter. Even as Amurath, so the proud and might Mahomet, had in humiliation and shame, to withdraw the remnant of his shattered forces from Albania. This was in 1464. Scanderbeg, worn out with twenty-four years incessant fighting, was drawing to the close of his career. He felt that the shadow of death was upon him, and he made the last arrangements for his country with care, as became a faithful Christian.
Knowing that when he should be gone, his beloved sanctuary of Our Lady in Scutari, could not resist the Turks, he handed it over for safekeeping to the Catholic Republic of Venice. He went and prayed there for the last time, and then, though exhausted, he took again to the mountains for the defense of his people.
In January 1467, we find him in the city of Lezhë spent and dying, but dying the death of the just. He that never feared death in the field, knew well how to meet it upon his couch of infirmity. He was recollected and calm. All his thoughts were directed to eternity. His last confession was made. For the last time he received the holy Viaticum. The holy Unction had been applied to all the senses of his body. The last blessing of the Church, which from its Supreme head to its lowest member, loved him tenderly, was pronounced upon him. The brave men who followed him to victory so often, wept like little children, as they encircled his bed. There was sorrow deep in Lezhë; wailing over all the valleys and hills of Albania.
Our Lady of Good Counsel of Genazzano
The shadow of death seemed to be upon the land. Castriota [Scanderbeg], though away from his beloved Madonna, had doubtless Her holy Image near him. God’s Virgin Mother, never absent from his thoughts in life, in his last extreme hour was not wanting to him. His great heart beat with the hope, soon to see revealed in the light of heaven, that benign countenance which he gazed upon with such rapture in the sanctuary of Scutari, and which cheered and consoled him so often on earth. Mary, Who never permitted him to fall into the hands of the enemy, or to be even once vanquished or wounded, was now determined to keep the powers of darkness from troubling his last moments.
Sweetly, the might warrior was sinking like the calm setting sun of some glorious day, when it pleased Her, Who in him, Her client, had ever proved Herself “formidable as an army set in battle array,” to glorify once again even in death, him whom She had so wonderfully glorified in life. As his eyes, therefore, were closing gently and peacefully upon the world, a shriek came from the streets of Lezhë, and even the strong limbs of the warriors around the bed of their dying Monarch trembled. It was a too well known cry: “The Turks! The Turks are upon us!” And truly it was so. The hordes of Mahomet were at the city gates.
Scanderbeg and his forces in battle.
They had heard, that the terror of their accursed creed was dying, and hoped, in his helplessness, even at his death, to have one victory over him. But Mary, as if to show the supernatural power with which She blessed him, was again at the hero’s side, and showed Her love to the last. Those dying eyes of his once more opened. Those ashy cheeks flushed. The drooping head was elevated. The sweat of death was wiped from the pallid brow. Scanderbeg, himself once more, looked for the sword, that did such execution upon the enemies of his country. It was given him, and the genius that never failed, flashed forth as vigorously as it did in his manhood’s prime. He ordered his veterans with his own matchless skill to prepare for the conflict. It was as ever, bloody, but decisive. The Turks routed with the usual slaughter, fled, alas for the last time from Albania. The cries of victory, which gave glory to God, and to Our Lady of Scutari, resounded once more through the streets of Lezhë. The Christian hero smiled, for these sounds were ever the gladdest of his life. And then, as if he knew that all was over, he smiled again, and looking up as if he saw the Virgin Mother open her loving arms to receive him, he sank back upon his couch, and gave forth his noble soul to God and to Mary.
Albania at that hour, indeed, was desolate. All Christendom mourned. The very horse of the hero refused its food in grief, and died. Agony worse than death, may be said to be the condition of his faithful followers left behind. The people, like sheep without a shepherd, awaited but for the moment, when the wolves, no longer to be hindered, should devour them. Worse than all, the Madonna of Albania, Our Lady of Scutari, would stay no longer in the land. The events of the miraculous translation we have narrated, took place when Her beloved son and client, had been but three months dead.
Then in swift but steady conquest the hosts of Mahomet passed over the land, and the horror of death fell upon its Christian inhabitants. Many, unfortunately, apostatized. Those who remained faithful, passed into a kind of bondage, since almost unbroken. Their condition has been greatly ameliorated of late years, and in religion, they are now, it may be said, free. The recollections, however, of their glorious Christian past, are never absent from their minds. They delight to speak of the exploits of their ancestors. The memory of their last great heroic king is as fresh as it was the day he died at Lezhë.
Msgr. George F. Dillon is the author of The Virgin Mother of Good Counsel: A History of the Ancient Sanctuary of Our Lady of Good Counsel in Genazzano, from which this article is taken, and of the Wonderful Apparition and Miraculous Translation of Her Sacred Image From Scutari in Albania to Genazzano in 1467 (Rome: Sacred Congregation of the Propaganda Fide, 1884), pp. 131-134.