Monday, April 14, 2014

Nagasaki: Oura Catholic Church

Oura Catholic Church or Oura Tenshudo is Japan's oldest standing Christian Church and is the first Western style building to have been designated as a national treasure.
Nagasaki was once the centre of Christianity in Japan and people from other parts of Japan sought refuge in the city to be able to practice their religion freely. However, fearing that the widespread influence of Christianity would hamper his attempts to unify the country, Toyotomi Hideyoshi expelled Christian missionaries from Japan in the 16th century. But seeing that some missionaries were still active despite the ban, he ordered the Crucifixion of the 26 martyrs on Nishizaka Hill in 1597. This was followed up with a strict ban on Christianity in later years by the Tokugawa Shogunate forcing  a large number of practicing Christians to give up their religion. However a small number of Christians held on to their faith in secrecy, later to be termed as "Kakure Kirishitan" or Hidden Christians. In the Meiji period, Japan ended its policy of isolation and opened up to the outside world. With that Freedom of religion was also granted to people. A church was a required for the foreign merchants who had settled down in Nagasaki after the port opened up. 
Two French priests  Bernard Petit-Jean and Louis Theodore Furet, came to Nagasaki in 1863 to build a church in honor of the 26 martyrs of Japan. An interesting incident related to the Church is that it was the site where it was revealed that Christianity had survived in Japan during its two century long ban on Christianity. Soon after the construction of the church, a group of people visited the church and approached Father Petit-Jean and revealed that they were descendants of early Japanese Christians who had held on to Christianity secretly. When news of this spread it prompted more and more hidden Christians to come out of hiding. It came to light that without a single church and a single clergy, Christianity had managed to survive for over 200 years, which was no short of a miracle. This event was termed as "the miracle of the Orient" by Pope Pius IX.

A bronze mural in the church courtyard depicts this event. 
To commemorate this event, a white marble statue of the Virgin Mary was imported from France and installed in the church.  
The early church was a small wooden church with three aisles and three octagonal towers. It was built by the Japanese carpenter, Koyama Hidenoshin, who was the master carpenter of the Glover Residence. The current structure was constructed in 1879 in Gothic style. The stained glass for the church were imported from France.
While most of Nagasaki suffered badly in the atomic bombing of 1945, the Church miraculously escaped major damage and repair works were completed in 1952. 

The Latin Divinity School is adjacent to the Church.

The Entrance to the Glover Garden is next door. 

The path leading up to the Church and Glover Garden is lined with shops selling Nagasaki specialities, especially Nagasaki Castella cakes. 

Access: Short walk from Oura-Tenshudo shita stop on route 5 of the Nagasaki Street Car. 

Entrance: Adults 300 yen

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