Monday, April 14, 2014

Nagasaki: Site of Martyrdom of the 26 Saints

Nagasaki has been an important centre of Christianity in Japan. 

With the arrival of the Portuguese and the Dutch, the sleepy fishing village of Nagasaki became a port city. The Jesuit missionary St Francis Xavier arrived in Kagoshima in Southern Kyushu in 1549 and Christianity started spreading. Though he soon left for China, his followers continued spreading Christianity and even some notable feudal lords converted to Christianity. While Christianity was spreading and had a big influence in southern Japan, it was not easy for Christians to practice their religion in other parts of Japan. A large number of Christians sought refuge in Nagasaki to escape maltreatment in other parts of the country. However, the widespread influence of Christianity in Southern Japan was a major concern to Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the feudal lord who is credited as the first person to successfully unify Japan. He ordered the expulsion of Christian missionaries and took over the control of the city. But a few powerful feudal lords were practising Christians so the expulsion order did not have a serious impact and people continued to be practising Catholics openly. This led Toyotomi Hideyoshi to enforce a ban on Christianity in 1597 and to emphasize his point he ordered the crucifixion of 26 Christians who defied his order. On 5th February, 1597, 26 Christians - 4 Spaniards, 1 Mexican, 1 Indian and 20 Japanese, were all crucified on the Nishizaka Hill. The youngest of the martyrs were boys aged 12 and 13. This was followed up with more executions, but Christianity continued to be practiced openly after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi in 1598. 

When Tokugawa Ieyasu took control of the country, he was initially in favour of Christianity. However fearing the rising influence of Christianity, the Tokugawa Shogunate imposed a strict ban on Christianity in 1614 forcing the practising Catholics to practice their religion in secret and earned them the name "Kakure Kirishitan", meaning Hidden Christians. They even modified the figures and statues of the Saint and Virgin Mary to resemble Buddhist statues and Boddhisatva figures. Prayers were modified to sound like Buddhist chants. 

Finally the Kakure Kirishitan came out in the open in the Meiji Restoration period when religious freedom was granted. 

The Site of Martyrdom of the 26 saints stands on the Nishizaka Hill near JR Nagasaki Station.

Figures of these 26 martyrs are carved on a wall at the site. 
A small chapel and a museum honors these martyrs who were declared as saints by the Pope in 1862.

Access: 5 minute walk from the JR Nagasaki station. 

Admission: 250 yen for the museum. 

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