On February 5 1597, 26 Christians were killed by crucifixion in Nagasaki, Japan, part of a centuries-long persecution of the Christian faith in that country. Catholic missions to Japan began in the 16th century and were initially successful. Hundreds of thousands of Japanese converted, including some Daimyo (feudal lords). However, starting with the rule of Toyotomi Hideyoshi brutal persecutions started against the Christians. The 26 martyrs commemorated today include both foreign missionaries and Japanese Christians, the youngest a boy of 12 years old.
God is glorious in his saints!
Welcome to the Christian Saints Podcast. My name is Darren Ong, recording from Sepang in Malaysia. In this podcast, we explore the lives of the Christian saints, from the Anglican, Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox traditions. Today, we will celebrate the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki, Japan
Christianity arrived in Japan in the 16th century through the works of Saint Francis Xavier, and initially gained a lot of traction, especially in and around the port city of Nagasaki. There were even prominent Daimyo (that is feudal lords) who were Christian. Eventually, the ruler of Japan at the Toytomi Hideyoshi cracked down on the Christian religion, killing Japanese Christians and foreign missionaries. Christians in Japan were forced into hiding
We will hear an account of this martyrdom, from this article without author from the Catholic News Herald.
Catholic News Herald
Born to a wealthy military leader in 1562 at Tounucumada, Japan, Paul Miki felt called to religious life at a young age. He became a Jesuit in 1580 and was soon widely known as a successful evangelist. In 1587, the political climate became hostile to Christianity, when the Japanese emperor became suspicious of the Catholic missionaries that had followed in St. Francis Xavier's footsteps a few decades earlier and were converting large numbers of Japanese. He accused the missionaries of "corrupting and stirring up the lower classes" and ordered them all out of the country. Miki and 25 other missionaries and laypeople, including three teenaged boys, were arrested in 1597 for disobeying his edict.
Over the next 30 days, they were forcibly marched 600 miles through the snow from Kyoto to Nagasaki so that they could be a warning to other Japanese Christians. On Feb. 5, 1597, as the group approached the hill in Nagasaki where they were to be tied to crucifixes measured especially for each of them, they all sang the Te Deum. More than 4,000 residents of Nagasaki – many of them Catholics who were crying and praying – witnessed the executions.
Miki's last sermon was delivered from the cross: "All of you who are here, please, listen to me... I have committed no crime, and the only reason why I am put to death is that I have been teaching the doctrine of Our Lord Jesus Christ. I am very happy to die for such a cause, and see my death as a great blessing from the Lord. At this critical time when, you can rest assured that I will not try to deceive you, I want to stress and make it unmistakably clear that man can find no way to salvation other than the Christian way. The Christian religion tells us to forgive our enemies and those who do harm us, and so I say that I forgive the emperor and those responsible for my death. I have no hatred for the emperor; indeed, I wish that he and all the Japanese would become Christians."
In another account of his final preaching, he was recorded as also saying, "The only reason for my being killed is that I have taught the doctrine of Christ. I thank God it is for this reason that I die. I believe that I am telling the truth before I die. I know you believe me and I want to say to you all once again: Ask Christ to help you become happy. I obey Christ. After Christ's example, I forgive my persecutors. I do not hate them. I ask God to have pity on all, and I hope my blood will fall on my fellow men as a fruitful rain."
Like his 25 companions, Miki died on the cross after being stabbed through the chest with a lance. He was just 30 years old, but he was not the youngest in the group: St. Louis Ibaraki was 12, St. Anthony was 13, and St. Thomas Kozaki was 14. St. Anthony's parents were at the foot of his cross to witness their son's bloody killing.
Persecution of Christians continued for another 300 years. Thousands of Catholic missionaries and the faithful – including their spouses and children – were imprisoned, tortured, burned alive, drowned, buried alive, hung or beheaded for the faith. More than 650 martyrs were killed on Martyrs Hill in Nagasaki alone. Japanese Christianity was driven underground until the 1860s, when European missionaries returned and found the faith still alive. In 1889, Japan constitutionally recognized freedom of religion, and in 1919 the country established diplomatic relations with the Vatican.
Miki and his 25 companions, called "The 26 Martyrs of Japan," were canonized in 1862 by Pope Pius IX, and a shrine was built on the hill in 1962.
The website of the monument has a list of these 26 martyrs, as well as a short description of their life.
From website of 26 martyrs monument
1. ST. FRANCIS, a carpenter from Kyoto, resolute and loyal, who insisted on following the martyrs until he was arrested and could join the group. Some of the chronicles call him Adauctus, after a similar case in the early church.
2. ST. COSMAS TAKEYA, a sword maker from Owari. He had been baptized by the Jesuits and worked as a catechist with the Franciscans in Osaka.
3. ST. PETER SUKEJIRO, a young man from Kyoto, sent by Fr. Organtino to care for the martyrs on their way to Nagasaki. His devotion to duty secured for him the grace of joining them.
4. ST. MICHAEL KOZAKI, a native of Ise, 46 yeas old and a bow maker. He was already a Christian when he first met he friars and his skill as a carpenter was a great help in building the Franciscan convents and churches of Kyoto and Osaka. He also trusted them with something he treasured over everything else: his own son Thomas.
5. ST. JAMES KISAI, a Jesuit lay brother, a man of deep devotion to the Passion of Christ. Sixty-four years of age, he had known a life of hardships, and excelled for his kindness and peace of heart. Born in Okayama, he had been in charge of the guests at the Jesuit residence.
6. ST. PAUL MIKI had been born in Tsunokuni district, the son of a brave soldier, Miki Handayu. Educated as a boy in the Jesuit schools of Azuchi and Takatsuki, he had witnessed the ups and downs of the Church in Japan. Paul Miki treasured his vocation to spread the gospel over everything else, and was near being ordained as a priest. The best preacher in the country, he fell silent when the executioner's blow shattered his heart. He was only thirty years of age.
7. ST. PAUL IBARAKI, born in Owari, of a samurai family. Baptized by the Jesuits, his faith went through a time of testing, and only in his final years could he find peace of soul, thanks to the Franciscans in Kyoto. He led a poor man's life near the Franciscan convent of Our Lady of the angels, running a small sake brewery to support his family, and could still afford to help others poorer than himself. He was also native as a preacher.
8. ST. JOHN OF GOTO, a portrait of innocence and joy, a short life of 19 yeas fully used in the service of God. Born in the Goto islands from parents already Christian, he studied with the Jesuits in Nagasaki, and then at the Jesuit school in Shiki (Amakusa), a training center for catechists who also help the missionaries as painters or musicians. His next post was Osaka where he worked under Fr. Morejon until the Lord offered him the crown of martyrdom.
9. ST. LOUIS IBARAKI, the youngest of the group, only 12 years old. He had been born in Owari and was the nephew of Paul Ibaraki and Leo Karasumaru. An endearing boy who kept singing and laughing when they cut off one of his ears, all through the long march to Nagasaki and on the cross too, he proved his mettle when he refused pointblank to be cajoled into apostatizing. "We have little Louis with us - wrote Fr. Francis Blanco on he eve of martyrdom - and he is so full of courage and in such high spirits that it astonishes everybody.
10. ST. ANTHONY, born Nagasaki of a Chinese father and Japanese mother. An artless boy 13 years old, he had received his first education at the Jesuit school in Nagasaki and went then to the Franciscan convent in Osaka. The bitterest thing the boy was to see was his mother crying not far from his cross. He died a singing martyr.
11. ST. PETER BAPTIST. Superior of the Franciscan Mission in Japan, former ambassador from Spain, a father to the poor lepers, a captain of martyrs. From San Esteban del Valle (Avila, Spain) where he was born, to Nishizaka Hill, his life of 50 years is too rich in merits and holiness to be summarized here.
12. ST. MARTIN OF THE ASCENSION, born in Guipuzcoa, Spain. He was 30 years old, His purity of heart was extraordinary, and this may be a clue to his fondness for singing. Told by his superiors to be ready to go to the Philippines, he went to Seville. In the old Franciscan convent he used o spend the nights in prayer, taking turns with another friar. His missionary work in Japan (Osaka) was short lived, but his death was most outstanding.
13. ST. PHILIP OF JESUS, a Mexican, 24 years old. A vase of sterling silver, which God knew how to emboss. His young life had been a maze of conflicting roads, a contest of strength between Christ and Philip, neither of the two willing to concede defeat. In the end Christ had emerged the victor, and Philip is now anxious to make up for the lost time: he will be the first to die.
14. ST. GONZALO GARCIA, 40 years, born in the remote Vasei (Bazain, India) of a Portuguese father and an Indian mother. A catechist with the Jesuits and a trader in Macao, he entered the Franciscans as a lay brother, and was the right hand of St. Peter Baptist. He spoke Portuguese with a stutter, but when he confronted Hideyoshi, absolute ruler of Japan, his Japanese came out without a hitch. He is the patron saint of Bombay.
15. ST. FRANCIS BLANCO was born in Monterrey (Galicia, Spain) and came to Japan with St. Martin of the Ascension. Like him, he had also traveled on foot to Seville before boarding a ship for Mexico and proceeding to the Philippines. A quiet, soft spoken man and extremely intelligent.
16. ST. FRANCIS OF ST. MICHAEL, 53, born in La Parrilla (Valladolid, Spain). He was so unassuming in life that he well deserves a special eulogy after death. "Seeing his good heart, physical strength and simplicity, he was accepted into the Order as a lay brother", say an old chronicler appropriately. Br. Francis had his own brand of humor too: "The bell for diner will toll tomorrow", he used to answer when asked to break his fast. When he was in Manila he enjoyed breathing "the winds from Japan" but once he set foot on the Japanese mission he had to go through a dark night of the soul feeling that he was useless and had better return to the Philippines. He died in silence, just as he had lived.
17. ST. MATTHIAS. We know nothing about his age, place of birth or date of baptism, only his name and the reason why he joined the martyrs. The soldiers were looking for another Matthias who could not be found. Our saint offered himself and the soldiers gladly accepted him. God accepted him too.
18. ST. LEO KARASUMARU, from Owari, younger brother of St. Paul Ibaraki. a bonze in his youth, he was converted by Japanese Jesuit and always led an exemplary life. When the Franciscans arrived, he became their main support. When it as a matter of building a church, buying a piece of land or running a hospital, the friars could always count on Leo. A zealous catechist and a man of prayer, he was a leading figure among the lay martyrs.
19. ST. BONAVENTURE. His young life bears the seal of inscrutable ways of Providence. Baptized as an infant, he soon lost his mother, and his stepmother sent him to a Buddhist monastery. One day he found out about his baptism, and came to visit the Franciscan convent in Kyoto, his place of birth, eager to have further information. There he found again his peace of soul. On his way to the cross he prayed for his father's faith and the conversion of his stepmother.
20. ST. THOMAS KOZAKI. With the rugged manners of a country boy, this fourteen year old had a beautiful heart, much like the Pearls of his native Ise. He was already Christian when he became acquainted with the Franciscans while helping his father as a carpenter, and stayed at the Franciscan convent once the job was finished. He was straightforward, unhesitant and totally committed in his service to God. His farewell letter to his mother, written from Mihara castle is one precious stone more in the saga of the 26 Martyrs.
21. ST. JOACHIM SAKAKIBARA, 40 year old, a native of Osaka. In gratitude for his baptism, received from a catechist when he was gravely ill, Joachim helped out in the construction of he Franciscan convent in Osaka and stayed on here as a cook. A man of very strong character, he excelled for his kindness and readiness to serve, a fitting preparation for the martyrs' crown.
22. ST. FRANCIS. Born in Kyoto, 48 years old. He was a physician and a zealous preacher. While still a pagan he used to wear a rosary that had belonged to Otomo Sorin, the Christian lord of Bungo. Divine Providence brought him into contact with the Franciscans, and after his Baptism and the conversion of his wife, he lived next door to the Franciscan convent, treating the sick without pay, and leading them to Christ.
23. ST. THOMAS DANGI. A druggist, with an extremely violent disposition, he mellowed with God's help into a kindhearted catechist. A Christian of many years, he opened his shop next to the Franciscan convent of Our Lady of the Angels, and while selling medicine he also took care to show the customers the way to heaven.
24. ST. JOHN KINUYA, 28 years old, from Kyoto. A silk weaver and trader, he had recently been baptized and moved his shop next to the convent. His silk fabrics, smooth and brightly colored, expressed the quality of John's prayers and love. And God graciously accepted John's life of work and prayer.
25. ST. GABRIEL, a native of Ise, 19 years old, another young life ungrudgingly offered to God. Converted by Br. Gonzalo, he made quick progress in his way to God, overcoming all kinds of obstacles. Gabriel worked as a catechist.
26. ST. PAUL SUZUKI, 49 years old, from Owari. His cross was at the end of the row and his voice, all fire and zeal, could be heard unimpeded. He had received baptism 13 years before. A man of impetuous character--and many a scar on his body to testify to that--he excelled for his apostolic zeal and was one of the best catechists helping the Franciscans. He was also in charge of St. Joseph's Hospital in Kyoto.
Oratio.jp, a website run by the Nagasaki prefectural government has a desciption of the church and monument dedicated to these martyrs. Today, the monument serves as a popular tourist attraction in the city.
Nagasaki prefectural government
After it had been decided that a group of Christians was to be executed in Nagasaki, those Portuguese who were in Nagasaki at the time asked the magistrate of Nagasaki whether these Christians could be executed in a different place to that of ordinary criminals. Perhaps they were imagining the day when a church would be built on the spot where the martyrdoms would occur.
On the 100th anniversary of the martyrs' canonization, the Japanese architect Imai Kenji designed the 26 martyrs memorial church (which is dedicated to St. Philip, one of the twenty six). Imai is the man who first introduced Japan to the famous Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi. He imitated the famous spires of Gaudi's Sagrada Família when building the 26 martyrs church, and decorated them using trencadís (a type of mosaic used in Catalan modernism). This technique was pioneered by Gaudi (who was from Catalonia), and involves using broken pieces of ceramic, such as tiles and dinnerware, in order to create a mosaic. For his mosaic, Imai used fragments of Arita porcelain from Japan, as well as fragments of ceramics from countries across the world, including both Spain and Mexico (the birthplaces of some of the martyrs).
In the adjacent Nishizaka park, a relief honouring the 26 martyrs was installed in 1962. It was made by Funakoshi Yasutake. Between 24 who are looking towards heaven with their hands joined in prayer, only St. Paul Miki and St. Peter Baptist look downwards with their arms wide open. This was done in order to emphasise that they preached until the last. In order to remind visitors of the crucifixions themselves, the relief is in the shape of a cross, and in addition, on the floor in front of it lances and ropes are depicted.
Despite the relentless persecution that these early Japanese Christians endured, there still persevered small communities of “hidden Christians” who kept their faith a secret. When Christianity was legalized once more in Japan in the late1800s after the Meiji restoration, foreign missionaries were shocked to discover these groups, who had passed down the Christian faith among themselves, in secret for hundreds of years. A majority of these Christian families re-established communion with the Roman catholic church.
There also emerged an Orthodox presence in Japan in the late 1800s, following the work of Saint Nicholas of Japan.
Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Christian wrote a famous novel, Silence, depicting Japanese Christians in 17th century struggling with this persecution. This novel was adapted to a 2016 Martin Scorecese movie, Silence, which deserves to be better known. The story follows two Jesuit priests who head to Japan after their mentor there goes missing, and deal with the horrors of the persecution that these Japanese Christians face.
The 26 martyrs are celebrated on the 6th of Februrary in the Roman Catholic and Anligcan churches, but this commemoration also sometimes occurs on the 5th.
Thanks for listening to this episode of the Christian saints podcast. Look for the Christian Saints podcast page on Facebook or Instagram, or look for us on Twitter at podcast_saints. All music in this episode was composed by my good friend, James John Marks of Generative sounds. Please check out his music at https://generativesoundsjjm.bandcamp.com/If you enjoyed this podcast, please consider giving us a rating on Itunes or whatever podcast app you use, so more people can find the Christian Saints Podcast
O God our Father, who didst bring the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the joys of eternal life: Grant that we, encouraged by their example, may hold fast to the faith we profess, even unto death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Ghost, one God, now and for ever. Amen.