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Martyrs of Japan

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Martyrs of Japan

The Martyrs of Japan (日本の殉教者 Nihon no junkyōsha) were Christians who were persecuted for their faith in Japan, mostly during the 17th century.

Early Christianity in Japan

The Christian martyrs of Nagasaki. 16-17th-century Japanese painting.

The shogunate and imperial government at first supported the Catholic mission and the missionaries, thinking that they would reduce the power of the Buddhist monks, and help trade with Spain and Portugal. However, the Shogunate was also wary of colonialism, seeing that in the Philippines the Spanish had taken power after converting the population. The government increasingly saw Roman Catholicism as a threat, and started persecuting Christians. Christianity was banned and those Japanese who refused to abandon their faith were killed.

On February 5, 1597, twenty-six Christians—six European Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys—were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki. These individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears.

Persecution continued sporadically, breaking out again in 1613 and 1630. On September 10, 1622, 55 Christians were martyred in Nagasaki in what became known as the Great Genna Martyrdom. At this time Roman Catholicism was officially outlawed. The Church remained without clergy and theological teaching disintegrated until the arrival of Western missionaries in the nineteenth century.

While there were many more martyrs, the first martyrs came to be especially revered, the most celebrated of whom was Paulo Miki. The Martyrs of Japan were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church on June 8, 1862 by Blessed Pius IX and are listed on the calendar as Sts. Paul Miki and his Companions, commemorated on February 6. Originally this feast day was listed as Sts. Peter Baptist and Twenty-Five Companions, Martyrs, and commemorated on February 5.[1]

Drawn from the oral histories of Japanese Catholic communities, Shusaku Endo's acclaimed novel Silence provides detailed accounts of the persecution of Christian communities and the suppression of the Church.

The 26 Martyrs of Japan

The Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan (日本二十六聖人 Nihon Nijūroku Seijin) refers to a group of Christians who were executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597 at Nagasaki.

On August 15, 1549, St. Francis Xavier (later canonized by Gregory XV in 1622), Fr. Cosme de Torres, S.J. (a Jesuit priest), and Fr. John Fernandez arrived in Kagoshima, Japan, from Spain with hopes of bringing Catholicism to Japan. On September 29, St. Francis Xavier visited Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Satsuma (containing the city of Kagoshima), asking for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo agreed in hopes of creating a trade relationship with Europe. Within a year, however, he reneged on this promise and made it illegal for people to convert.

A promising beginning to those missions—perhaps as many as 300,000 Christians by the end of the sixteenth century—met complications from competition between the missionary groups, political difficulty between Spain and Portugal, and factions within the government of Japan. Christianity was suppressed. By 1630, Christianity was driven underground.

The first Martyrs of Japan were canonized in 1862. They are commemorated on February 5 when, on that date in 1597, twenty-six missionaries and converts were killed by crucifixion. Two hundred and fifty years later, when Christian missionaries returned to Japan, they found a community of Japanese Christians that had survived underground.

205 Martyrs of Japan (1597–1637)

They are also known as Alfonso Navarrete Benito, Pedro of Avila, Carlo Espinola, Ioachim Diaz Hirayama, Lucia de Freitas, and 200 Companion Martyrs of Japan. Among them are:

Beatified on 7 May 1867.[2]

The Great Martyrdom of Nagasaki (1622)

After the Shogun decided that Christianity needed to be suppressed, the Christian teachers were ordered to leave the country. They did so; however, a few decided to return secretly, including the Augustinian Father Pedro de Zuiniga and the Dominican Father Luis Florez. They went on board a ship from Manila captained by a Japanese Christian named Joachim. The vessel, however, was captured and plundered by the Dutch who reported to the Japanese (into whose custody they were given) that there were Catholic priests on board. They were imprisoned in Hirato; however, they (along with a number of other Christians) broke out of prison with the help of another Dominican father from Manila.

All the prisoners were recaptured, and the emperor ordered the governor of Nagasaki to burn alive Captain Joachim with his entire officers and crew, the two priests, and all the other monks in this and other prisons (both foreigners and Japanese), as well as all the wives and children of those who had previously been martyred.[3]

The governor then proceeded to Hirato and examined the prisoners. He questioned them about whether they were Christians, where they were born and when they were baptized. He instructed them to renounce Christianity, and that the Emperor had given him a promise that if they did so, their lives would be spared. They repeatedly refused to renounce the faith. Therefore, the governor ordered the captain and the two priests to be burned alive, and for ten sailors to be beheaded.[3] The three to be burned asked for what reason they were being killed, and when upon being told they were being executed for illegally seeking to spread the Christian faith in Japan, they rejoiced for being able to die for Christ.[3]

They were executed in Nagasaki on August 19, 1622. The sailors were first beheaded, as the three were made ready for burning. Before they were burned, Joachim began preaching to the crowd that had come to watch. He was ordered to stop, but he asked what greater pain they could inflict upon him that than which they were already going to do. The fire was then set and Joachim continued to preach as he was being burned.[3]

The heads of the three were removed and placed upon a board as a public warning. The bodies were left where they were for several days, and large crowds of Japanese Christians arrived, venerating them. The guards beat them. The son of Álvaro Manrique de Zúñiga, marqués de Villamanrique (viceroy of New Spain) obtained a relic of Pedro de Zúñiga,[3] to whom he was related.

The governor of Nagasaki then retrieved 52 prisoners from Omura, including 21 monks, some of whom had been imprisoned for many years in very cruel conditions. At the same time, he also summoned an additional 30 prisoners in Nagasaki. The governor ordered all of them to be sentenced to death by beheading. This execution order also included the prisoners' children.[3]

On the day of execution (September 10, 1622), prisoners carried crosses in their hands, while singing hymns praising God and condemning Japanese gods, and many of the crowd that came to watch them included Christians, with reportedly crying and wailing by those who recognized the priests who had converted them. The priests in answer to this, told the crowd that God would give them other teachers and that they needed to keep their faith until death.[3]

There were two groups of executions: one by burning and the other by beheading. Four Japanese lay Christians who had entertained priests in their houses, as well as twenty-five priests and monks (European and Japanese) were issued a stake where he/she was to be burned. Each priest kissed the stake he was given many times, and their example was followed by the Japanese Christians. The twenty-five priests and monks (in their order of execution) were:

  • Father Charles Spinola, SJ (from Genoa)
  • Father Fray Angel Ferrer, OP
  • Father Fray Joseph de S. Jacinto, OP
  • Father F. Jacinto, OP
  • Father Sebastian Ouimura, SJ (Japanese from Hirado, a Christian for thirty years and the first Japanese ordained priest in 1602)
  • Father Fray Pedro de Avila, OFM
  • Father Fray Richard de Saint-Anne, OFM
  • Father Fray Alonso de Mena, OP
  • Father Fray Francisco de Morales, OP
  • Brother Fray Vicente, OFM
  • Brother Fray Leon, (Japanese)
  • Brother Antonio Fugia, SJ
  • Brother Gonzalo Fusay, SJ
  • Brother Pedro Zampo, SJ
  • Brother Miguel, SJ (Japanese)

The next eight are not known, but they were all Japanese and the first four of the eight belonged to the Order of Preachers (Dominicans). The last two were Brother Tome Agascin and Brother Luis Cavarato (Japanese). Insufficient stakes were present, so an additional Jesuit brother named Iuan Chacoco was instead beheaded.[3]

As the preparations for execution were conducted. Father Espinola asked one of the mothers (named Isabel Fernandez) being beheaded where her son was. The mother (whose husband had been a martyr, and therefore she was set for execution) lifted the five-year-old child (named Ignacio) in her arms and answered Father Espinola
Father, here is my son. I will offer him to God; he will become a martyr with me.'[3]

The Japanese first beheaded the thirty men and women from Nagasaki, as well as twelve of their children (all of them under 10 years of age). The reason for beheading before lighting the fire, was in order to dishearten those to be burned. For the same purpose, the wood was set up so that there was distance between the wood that was initially lighted and the wood that rested under those tied to the stakes (up to 18 feet), thus giving the martyrs more time to think about their approaching painful deaths.[3]

The burning took place over several hours, and it was claimed that Father Ouimura lasted three hours alive.[3]

After the end of the burning, many local Christians (estimated up to 50,000 in the vicinity of Nagasaki) attempted to gather relics, but they were beaten by the guards. In order to prevent the collection of relics, the guards also destroyed the bodies by burning them to ashes, and the ashes were then taken to sea and scattered into the water.[3]

On the following day (September 11) the Sacristan Gaspar Contengan Doxico, companion of Father Camillo Constancio, was beheaded along with two children of martyrs (one 7 years old, the other 10 years old), as well as a Christian who had been caught by gathering relics at night along with his entire family in Omura.[3]

On September 12, fifteen more Christians were executed in Omura. This included Father Fray Tomas de Sumarrega (OP), Father Fray Apolinar Franco (OFM), a Japanese laywoman caught praying among the bodies, as well as several more Japanese Christians.[3]

Ten more were martyred at Iquinotima, together with Brother Augustin Onda (SJ). Father Camilo Constancio (SJ) was burnt alive on September 15 at Firando, while English and Dutch ships were anchored at harbour.[3]

On September 23, six farmers were executed in Nagasaki. Three of them were burned (father, wife and son) because Iacinto Dominico was found at their house, and three were beheaded.[3]

On October 2, nine more were executed in Nagasaki, including three children. One of them was tortured was seven days in order to get him to denounce the priests. After failing to get his cooperation, the executioners slit his back and poured molten lead into the wound, after which they burned him along with his entire family and scattered the ashes to the sea.[3]

The following year on May 27, two Christians were executed in Hirato. One of them had hosted Father Camilo, and the other had transported him by boat to various places for his missionary work. An old man of 85 years of age on June 2 had heavy rocks tied to his feet and was thrown into the sea. On the following day (June 3), another companion and helper of Father Camilo was executed.[3] Another was executed on June 8 for the same reason. On July 26 two more Christians were executed for refusing to lend their horses to help transport the bodies of those killed. Another was later martyred for this same reason, there was also a martyrdom in a small farmers' village, along with two others charged with assisting those that were martyred.[3]

The last martyr to be recorded in this wave was on November 1. Father Pedro Paulo Navarro (SJ), had preached in Japan for thirty-six years, and he was burnt alive along with his guide, and Brother Dionysio and Brother Pedro Sandayo (both Jesuits).[3]

Jesuit fathers and others who had successfully fled to the Philippines wrote reports which led to a pamphlet that was printed in Madrid in 1624 "A Short Account of the Great and Rigorous Martyrdom, which last year (1622) was suffered in Japan by One Hundred and Eighteen Martyrs'.[3]

16 Martyrs of Japan (1633–1637)

They are also known as Lorenzo Ruiz, Dominic Ibáñez de Erquicia, James Kyushei Tomonaga, and 13 companions, Philippines, martyrs in Japan.[4] They are:

Beatified February 18, 1981.[5] Canonized 18 October 1987.[6]

Martyrs of Japan (1632)

Martyrs of Nagasaki who were 3 September 1632 scalded in boiling water and then burned alive at the stake in Nishizaka, Nagasaki:

  1. Anthony Ishida
  2. Fr. Bl. Bartolomé Gutiérrez Rodríguez de Espinosa, a Mexican, was burned alive after suffering tsurushi in hot sulphur baths for almost a year [1][2]
  3. Francisco Terrero de Ortega Pérez
  4. Gabriel Tarazona Rodríguez
  5. Jerome of the Cross de Torres
  6. Vicente Simões de Carvalho.[7] Beatified 7 July 1867 by Pope Pius IX

On 11 December 1632 there were executed two Augustinian priests, Martin Lumbreras Peralta and Melchor Sanchez Perez.[3] Beatified 23 April 1989.[2]

Petrus Kibe Kasui and 187 Companion Martyrs of Japan

Murdered between 1603 and 1639. They include:

  • The Martyrs of Yatushiro (+1603-1609)
  • The Martyrs of Yamaguchi (Melchior Kumagai Motonao, a samurai, and Damian, a blind catechist)
  • Leo Saishio Shichiemon, a samurai from Sendai
  • The Martyrs of Ikitsuki (Three members of the Nishi family)
  • The Martyrs of Arima (Eight noble Christians burned alive on October 7, 1613)
  • Adam Arakawa, a catechist from Amakusa
  • The Martyrs of Kyoto (52 Christians burned alive on October 6, 1619)
  • The Martyrs of Kumamoto (Members of the Kagayama and Ogasawara families)
  • John Hara Mondo, a samurai killed in the Great Martyrdom of Edo
  • The Martyrs of Hiroshima (Francis Toyama Jintaro, a samurai; Matthias Shobara Ichizaemon and Joachim Kuroemon, catechists)
  • The Martyrs of Unzen (29 Christians drowned to death in the Shimabara river or scalded to death in the sulphur springs of Unzen)
  • The Martyrs of Yonezawa (55 Christians beheaded on January 12, 1629)
  • Michael Kusuriya, the "Good Samaritan of Nagasaki" who was burned alive in Nishizaka Hill; and Bro. Nicholas Keian Fukunaga, a Jesuit Brother who was the first Christian to suffer the "gallows and the pit" or "gallows and hole", (ana (, hole/pit) tsurushi (つるし) or 釣殺し; lit. hang-hole), a torture in which the condemned individual is fixed head-down to a wooden beam and lowered to his or her waist into a pit filled with garbage.[8][9]
  • Fr. Julian Nakaura, a Jesuit priest. One of the four boys who were sent as emissaries to Europe (Tenshō embassy) in Nagasaki on October 21, 1633.
  • Fr. Diego Yuki Ryosetsu, a Japanese priest who suffered the gallows and the pit in Osaka in 1636.
  • Fr. Thomas Jihyoe, one of the Hermits of St. Augustine
  • Fr. Peter Kibe Kasui, a Jesuit Priest who suffered the gallows and the pit in Tokyo in 1639.

They were beatified on 24 November 2008.[10]

See also


  1. ^  
  2. ^ a b Martyrs of Japan (1597–1637) at Hagiography Circle
  3. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q r s t u
  4. ^ Biography at the Vatican website
  5. ^ USCCB (Office of Media Relations) – Beatifications During Pope John Paul II’s Pontificate
  6. ^ Lawrence Ruiz and companions from the Vatican website
  7. ^
  8. ^
  9. ^
  10. ^ Martyrs of Japan (1603–39) at Hagiography Circle

External links

  • The 26 Martyrs Museum in Nagasaki City, Japan
  • Timeline of the Catholic Church in JapanCatholic Bishops Conference of Japan:
  • Prohibition of Christian religion by Hideyoshi and the 26 martyrsDaughters of St. Paul Convent, Tokyo, Japan:
  • The Japanese Martyrs
  • Detailed Access Information from Nagasaki Station to 26 Martyrs MonumentNagasaki Wiki:
  • Beatification of Japanese Martyrs2008
  • Kirish'tan: Heaven's Samurai, a historical novel that includes the story of the Twenty-six Martyrs
  • All About Francis XavierBritto, Francis.
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