The Martyrdom of The 26 Saints

Martyrdom of the 26 saints.

iloverjoa, 日本二十六聖人殉教地 Site of Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan – panoramio, CC BY 3.0

No other Japanese prefecture has received as much Western influence as Nagasaki since it was the only area of Japan that allowed foreigners to dock and trade during the isolationist period. On the other hand, not all types of Western influences were tolerated, as you will see at the Martyrdom of the 26 Saints Museum.

Topics Covered

  • The history behind it
  • The martyrdom of the 26 saints museum

The history behind it

The Catholic Churches of Spain and Portugal competed with one another to convert as many Japanese citizens to Catholicism as possible.

It all started when Francis Xavier, Juan Fernandez, and Cosme de Torres – three Spanish Jesuits – arrived in Kagoshima, Japan, on August 15, 1549. Their mission was to spread Catholicism throughout Japan.

The three high-ranking Jesuits met with the Shogun, and permission was granted to build a church to spread their religion. The Shogun agreed for two reasons: 1) He wanted to increase trade between Europe and Japan, and 2) he thought that the spread of Christianity would slow down the popularity of Buddhism in the country.

Japanese authorities changed their minds less than 50 years later. Catholicism had spread throughout the Nagasaki prefecture, there were hundreds of Western missionaries in Japan, and the government was becoming concerned about European colonialism.

The San Felipe Incident in 1596 was the final straw, and shortly after that, Catholicism was banned, and all Japanese converts had to change their faith to Shintoism, Buddhism, or atheism. The decision was met with resistance, and that is when the persecutions started.

On February 5, 1597, four Spaniards, one Indian/Portuguese, one Mexican, three Japanese Jesuits, and 17 Japanese members of the Third Order of St. Francis were crucified and stabbed with spears. There were a few other cases of martyrdom that occurred in Nagasaki up until 1632. Christianity remained an underground religion up until Western missionaries returned 250 years later in the 19th Century.

The Martyrdom of the 26 Saints Museum

The 26 martyrs are memorialized with a church, museum, and monument, which are all situated on the exact spot where they died.

The monument: The monument is located in a beautiful park from where you can see stunning views of Nagasaki City.

The museum: The museum is situated directly behind the monument. It houses various artifacts, mostly from missionaries, and includes things such as documents, small statues, and multiple items of jewelry.

The 26 martyrs church: St. Philip’s Church (Nishizaka Church), is named after one of the martyrs. The church, designed by Kenji Imai, has a unique design and houses the bones of some of the martyrs.

When?Open 7 days a week
Where?Nishizaka-machi 7-8, Nagasaki-shi, Nagasaki-ken
Admission Fee500 Yen
Time09:00 – 17:00
Duration20 to 30 minutes

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