Ahhh, a croissant!
Whether you say it like “cross-ont” or “croi-ssont”, whether you only eat them on Parisian boulevards or you buy yours at Coles, they are lovely. So light, so buttery, and so tempting!
Although inextricabily associated with the French, and with a certain Parisian je ne sais quoi in particular, the croissant is actually Austrian. A popular pastry, it probably dates from sometime in the Middle Ages. [Or, more likely from the mid 19th Century… oops!] But that’s not nearly as interesting as the legend behind it.
The Croissant is supposed to have been invented on the eve of the Battle of Vienna in 1683. Back then, what we now think of Germany, Austria and Hungary was ruled by the Habsburgs as the Holy Roman Empire. For most of the century, the Catholic Habsburgs had spent time fighting the Protestants states in Germany (and vice versa) – these were the bloody Wars of Religion that solidified the power of the sovereign states and paved the way for the modern nation state. But that’s all by the by.
At the same time, the Ottoman Turks were advancing further and further into Europe. In 1683, they attacked Vienna, the capital of the Empire, and laid seige to the city. They steadily attacked the walls of Vienna and by early September, things were looking bad for city and indeed, for Europe. On 11th September, however, the Polish Hussars, led by King Jan III Sobieksi arrived from the north and attacked the beseiging Ottoman forces. The battle was as bloody as any, not least because the Ottoman Grand Vizier ordered the execution of 30,000 Christian prisoners. Despite being seriously outnumbered, the Polish forces defeated the Ottomans – and Vienna was saved! Not only Vienna but in many ways, Europe too. No one knows what would have happened if Vienna had fallen to the Muslim Ottomans.
But back to croissants. The story goes that they were invented by the bakers to celebrate the victory, and shaped like a crescent to represent the crescent moons that flew on the Ottoman standards.
Our word – croissant – comes from this same crescent.
Unfortunately, it’s probably not true. (But don’t let that spoil the fun!) What is true though is the origin of the feast we celebrate today: the Holy Name of Mary. Before the battle, King Jan Sobieksi placed his entire army under the protection of the Blessed Virgin. The Emperor and the King both attributed their unexpected victory to the grace of God and the powerful intercession of Mary.
The next year, Pope Innocent XI inserted this feast into the General Roman Calendar in honour of the Blessed Virgin and the victory she granted.
So today, grab a croissant, remember the Battle of Vienna and the faith of the our fathers, and bless the Holy Name of Mary, Virgin and Mother!
Remember, O most gracious Virgin Mary, that never was it known that anyone who fled to your protection, implored your help, or sought your intercession, was left unaided. Inspired with this confidence, I fly to you, O Virgin of virgins, my Mother. To you I come, before you I stand, sinful and sorrowful. O Mother of the Word Incarnate, despise not my petitions, but in your mercy, hear and answer me. Amen.