Saturday, June 9, 2012

For Whom The Bell Tolls

János Hunyadi
No, I'm not about to blog about the novel by Ernest Hemingway, or the song from Metallica of the same name. I'm speaking of the church bells that chime at noon. I never had any thought as to why church bells chime at noon, it was always a thing that just was. One day, I couldn't tell you when, during one of my researchscapades for my novel, I came across some interesting bit of info. Yeah, it has to do with the church bells chiming at noon. Some of you reading this may already know why and the importance of why they chime at noon, some of you may not. They chime in commemoration of two men, but primarily for one: János (John) Hunyadi, and for the other, Giovanni (John) da Capistrano.

Giovanni da Capistrano
I've written a scene where the son of János Hunyadi, the king of Hungary Mátyás (Matthias, or Matthew) Corvin, is telling the tale of his father's brave fight in Nándorfehérvár (Belgrade) to my main character, Vlad, over-looking the cities of Buda and Pest from a balcony in the palace. Here's the scene as it is now in its first draft form, which may or may not stay once the novel is complete:

It must be noon,” the king said, “the church bells are ringing. Do you know why they ring at noon, Vlad?”
They ring for János Hunyadi, the White Knight of Christianity.”
Yes, my father. Remember me telling you at breakfast about his greatest feat being in Nándorfehérvár?”
Now I shall tell you the story. In Fourteen Hundred Fifty and Six, the Turks had siege of the city in June of that year, entrapping my uncle Mihály Szilágy and his garrison of six thousand within. My father arrived on Fourteen July with his troop of ten-thousand knights and cavalrymen and with Giovanni da Capistrano, a seventy-year-old Franciscan monk, and his army of twenty-thousand poorly equipped peasant recruits. Altogether they had built an army of thirty-thousand against Sultan Mehmed's force of seventy-thousand.”
They were outnumbered. I wonder what went through the minds of the men when they saw what they were about to be up against?”
No doubt they were afraid, yet Capistrano was said to have been a very passionate orator and instilled his troops with such enthusiasm in the cause that any fear the men may have felt would have been choked down and replaced with pride. The night my father and Capistrano arrived they broke enough of the Turkish navel blockade on the Danube to reach the city's garrison and provide them with much needed food and manpower. The war continued until came a lull on Twenty-two July, when the Turks took to burying their dead. More reinforcements came to the city during this time, and it is also when a strange turn of events happened.”
The king removed his hat and used it to fan his face. He wiped the sweat from his brow and continued, “It is said my father gave an order that no one was to go outside the walls of the city, but some of Capistrano's crusaders ignored the order and crept into the Turkish camp and began harassing them. The Ottoman cavalry tried to disperse them without success, and soon they were joined by more of Capistrano's men and with those of my father's, escalating into a full battle. Capistrano tried to hold back the men at first, then turned to leading them, shouting, “The Lord who made the beginning will take care of the finish!” He took the Turks from behind, my father captured their cannons, and through all the chaos, the Turks began to retreat. The sultan's Janissary troops tried to recapture the camp without success. Sultan Mehmed took to fighting and was rendered unconscious when wounded. After the Ottoman retreat, the defenders kept alert for a counterattack which never came.
During this battle, Pope Callixtus the Third ordered the bells of every church to ring at noontide as a call for all believers to pray for the defenders of Nándorfehérvár. News of the victory reached some countries faster than the order, and thus it was changed to commemorate my father's and Capistrano's victory. Now you know for whom the bells toll.”
What happened to your father and Capistrano after the battle?”
Unfortunately, the plague swept through Nándorfehérvár and killed many who fought in the battle, including my father. He died Eleven August, and Capistrano two months later on Twenty-three October.”

So there's the gist of the story of the siege of Belgrade, after which Sultan Mehmed had a new-found respect for the Hungarians and especially of Hunyadi. It would be another 70 years before the Turks attack Hungary again and win in the Battle of Mohács. Learn more here and here of the Battle of Belgrade.

Hunyadi and Capistrano lead in the Battle of Nándorfehérvár