Friday, April 12, 2019

APRIL 12, 1638 : A CHRISTIAN HOLOCAUST

cropped-HPIM0083.jpg

Amakusa Shiro as depicted in sculpture on the grounds of the vanished Hara Castle

              Under the Fallen Blossoms, Buried History

           In the Japanese village of Minami Arima, every spring at cherry-blossom time, two mortal foes march their little armies up the castle road.  One is a leathery old samurai in armor and the other a pony-tailed teenager in a flowery red cape, with his face painted up like a geisha’s.  The man is the Shogun’s general; the boy is Amakusa Shiro.  At road’s end their armies will have mock combat, eliciting laughs from the crowd.

            Beyond the cherry trees, overlooking the sea, stands a very different Amakusa Shiro:  a stout young man in prayer with two swords in his belt.  This statue is truer to history, more like the young samurai who stood here awaiting the holocaust in that horrific cherry-blossom spring of 1638.  Here thirty-seven thousand souls would offer up their starving flesh, writing their testament in blood into this sacred soil.  Here was Hara Castle, the grave of the Shimabara Rebellion, the dying gasp of old Catholic Japan.

 

            The Shimabara Peninsula had boasted seventy Catholic churches in her prime, and the nearby Amakusa Islands had been staunchly Catholic too; but since 1612 the Shoguns had been tightening the vise and all faithful Catholics now faced death by torture.  The current Shogun, Iemitsu, demanded Christ’s extinction.  Iemitsu was a sadist, a pederast, a drunkard, a tyrant and a paranoiac, and he feared Christ as a demon would.

            To top this off, the lords of Shimabara and Amakusa were practicing tax-extortion.  There had been three years of drought and starvation, but these two profligates demanded exorbitant payments from their peasants, or else.  Some defaulters were tied up in coats made of straw and set alight.  One sheriff seized a farmer’s wife—nine months pregnant—stripped her and put her into a cage in an icy stream to make her husband pay up.  She and her baby died in the cage.

            Then there was the torture of another tax-defaulter’s only daughter, a beautiful virgin.  The sheriff stripped her naked and burnt her artfully with torches; enraged, her father killed him.  Perhaps this sheriff’s atrocity was the spark for the Shimabara Peninsula’s explosion into rebellion.  Thousands attacked their cruel master’s fortress in the town of Shimabara, brandishing a banner that proclaimed:  We were timely born to die for the Faith.

            It did seem like the end of time:  there were burning, vermilion skies, and flowers blooming out of season.  And down in Amakusa there was a prodigy.  Fifteen-year-old Shiro was the son of an old Catholic samurai named Jimbyoei.  Jimbyoei and his cronies had concocted a phony prophecy by a mythical missionary of old that “foretold” Shiro’s coming to liberate the downtrodden Christians; and then they acclaimed the boy as their prophesied redeemer in a public ceremony.

            Thus was the rebellion seeded.  After the explosion in Shimabara, closet-Christians in the nearby Amakusa Islands flocked to Shiro’s flag to wage war on their own oppressors; meanwhile, entire villages throughout the Shimabara Peninsula were vowing in writing to obey Shiro to the death.  After an unsuccessful attempt to take their despotic feudal lord’s fortress at Tomioka, Shiro’s Amakusan army sailed to Shimabara with him to join their Shimabaran brethren, and all barricaded themselves and their families inside the disused fortress called Hara Castle, in the south of the Peninsula.

            On Christmas Day the Shogun learned of the rebellion and commissioned a general, Itakura Shigemasa, to go down south to Shimabara and wipe out the despised Catholics.  His army—thrown together with units from various feudal clans—didn’t wait for his orders but attacked as soon as they had arrived at Hara Castle, expecting an easy victory; the Christian marksmen atop the castle walls mauled them.  Enlightened, the invaders withdrew to lick their wounds and prepare themselves for real warfare.

            Reinforcements came, but the rebels repulsed Itakura’s second, bigger assault.  Now he had to save his honor:  he ordered an all-out attack on Japanese New Year’s Day (Feb. 14, 1638).  Many contingents fought bravely, but the determined rebels exhausted them, and when Itakura tried to rally his army for a last, grand effort, all the mustered units refused to budge.  Now Itakura must save face:  grimly leading only his own little band of vassals, he charged the fortress.  A hail of bullets killed the men on his left and right, but he made it to the wall and died trying to scale it alone, shot through the chest.

             Now a new, veteran general—Matsudaira—arrived with orders from the Shogun to stand clear and starve the Christians out.  He surrounded the fortress with over 125,000 men and backed them up with cannon-fire from both the government camp and a 20-gun Dutch merchantman anchored offshore.

            That winter was severe, and inside Hara Castle the cold and hunger did its work:  what had been a triumphal juggernaut transformed into a purgatory.  By March they had run out of rice and some were eating the empty sacks; nor was there any more drinking-water or firewood, nor gunpowder.  The Shogun’s vise was pinching their Christian kingdom and their very bellies, while cannonballs came screaming in to crunch flesh and bone.  One went through Shiro’s sleeve and killed four or five of his companions.

            Matsudaira masterfully played his hand once he had tightened the vise.  He tempted the Christians with promises:  rice and homes and land and tax-relief, if only they would leave their fortress and abandon the Faith.  These tempting lies dropped out of the sky, delivered as letters wrapped around arrows shot over the castle walls.  Some nonbelievers, dragged into the rebellion against their will, did defect, but the Christian stalwarts shot testimonies back to the besiegers:  they wanted only to worship Christ; that denied them, they would just have to die, they declared.  Letting them live as Christians, of course, was not an option, for the Shogun, trapped in his private darkness, viewed the Faith with terror.

            By spring the rebels were desperate.  In a sudden night-sortie in early April they tried to rob food and ammo from the government camp, but were repulsed with heavy losses: the Christians had made the mistake of setting fire to enemy tents and thus illuminated themselves, perfect targets for massed musketry.  After the raiders’ retreat into the fortress, the government troops cut open the stomachs of Christian dead and found they had been eating only leaves.

             The Shogun’s hour had finally arrived.  On the Eleventh of April 1638, his horde swarmed over the outermost wall of Hara Castle, having first sent down a rain of fire-arrows.  The wasted defenders fought with anything at hand—empty guns, cooking-pots—while their Christian kingdom burned all around them.  The innermost wall, the wall of the citadel at the mountaintop, was stormed on the morning of the Twelfth, and the fighting ended at noon, when the last rebel combatant was dead.  Those taken prisoner—the elderly, the ill, mothers and their children—they beheaded, without exception.  “Even the little girls,” one observer lamented.

             The Shogun’s army ringed the burnt-out Hara Castle with 10,860 impaled Christian heads; they sent 3,300 more to Nagasaki as a lesson to that town’s surviving Catholics.  As a warning to the Portuguese there—who had brought the Catholic Faith to Japan—they stuck four heads, including Shiro’s, onto stakes at the foot of the bridge to the island where the Portuguese were now confined.  Soon the Portuguese would be banned from Japan entirely, and all Japanese required to appear before a magistrate annually and tread on a Christian sacred image to prove their loyalty to the Shogun.

          In the wake of the rebellion, barely a soul remained in the south of the Shimabara Peninsula: all but the rare deserter had died at the hands of the Shogun’s army. In order to have the land tilled, therefore, the Shogunate repopulated the Peninsula by forcibly removing peasants from Shikoku and Honshu and installing them willy-nilly in the ghost towns of Shimabara.

            In Japan’s Catholic heyday, at least seventy Catholic churches dotted the Shimabara Peninsula; today only three remain. But every spring at cherry-blossom time, the villagers of Minami Arima do remember the holocaust of the 37,000 with a Buddhist memorial service in the evening, and the next day with a parade, with Amakusa Shiro made up like a dainty geisha, and the Shogun’s general a proper man.

          Perhaps a fitting testament to the expunging of the Faith from what was once a Catholic land—after all, a prettied-up cartoon parody of that would-be forgotten slaughter of yesteryear fits in well with the animé unreality that so enthralls the Japan of today. But the made-up fun obscures the monstrous truth of the slaughter of those 37,000 who believed themselves ‘timely born to die for the Faith,’ and it ignores the countless martyred children: martyrs because they, unlike so many of their parents, had not chosen to rebel, but had been scooped up by their parents and rushed to Minami Arima and through the gates of Hara Castle. These the Shogun’s hordes executed for the crime of being Christian. Even the little girls.

          When will Hara Castle’s little martyrs be remembered?

Copyright © 2005, 2013, 2015 by Luke O’Hara
(Originally published, in an earlier version, in Our Sunday Visitor)

BOOKS BY LUKE O'HARA




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THE KIRISHITAN HOLOCAUST OF 12 APRIL 1638: AMAKUSA SHIRO AND THE FALL OF HARA CASTLE

cropped-HPIM0083.jpg

Amakusa Shiro as depicted in sculpture on the grounds of the vanished Hara Castle

              Under the Fallen Blossoms, Buried History

           In the Japanese village of Minami Arima, every spring at cherry-blossom time, two mortal foes march their little armies up the castle road.  One is a leathery old samurai in armor and the other a pony-tailed teenager in a flowery red cape, with his face painted up like a geisha’s.  The man is the Shogun’s general; the boy is Amakusa Shiro.  At road’s end their armies will have mock combat, eliciting laughs from the crowd.

            Beyond the cherry trees, overlooking the sea, stands a very different Amakusa Shiro:  a stout young man in prayer with two swords in his belt.  This statue is truer to history, more like the young samurai who stood here awaiting the holocaust in that horrific cherry-blossom spring of 1638.  Here thirty-seven thousand souls would offer up their starving flesh, writing their testament in blood into this sacred soil.  Here was Hara Castle, the grave of the Shimabara Rebellion, the dying gasp of old Catholic Japan.

 

            The Shimabara Peninsula had boasted seventy Catholic churches in her prime, and the nearby Amakusa Islands had been staunchly Catholic too; but since 1612 the Shoguns had been tightening the vise and all faithful Catholics now faced death by torture.  The current Shogun, Iemitsu, demanded Christ’s extinction.  Iemitsu was a sadist, a pederast, a drunkard, a tyrant and a paranoiac, and he feared Christ as a demon would.

            To top this off, the lords of Shimabara and Amakusa were practicing tax-extortion.  There had been three years of drought and starvation, but these two profligates demanded exorbitant payments from their peasants, or else.  Some defaulters were tied up in coats made of straw and set alight.  One sheriff seized a farmer’s wife—nine months pregnant—stripped her and put her into a cage in an icy stream to make her husband pay up.  She and her baby died in the cage.

            Then there was the torture of another tax-defaulter’s only daughter, a beautiful virgin.  The sheriff stripped her naked and burnt her artfully with torches; enraged, her father killed him.  Perhaps this sheriff’s atrocity was the spark for the Shimabara Peninsula’s explosion into rebellion.  Thousands attacked their cruel master’s fortress in the town of Shimabara, brandishing a banner that proclaimed:  We were timely born to die for the Faith.

            It did seem like the end of time:  there were burning, vermilion skies, and flowers blooming out of season.  And down in Amakusa there was a prodigy.  Fifteen-year-old Shiro was the son of an old Catholic samurai named Jimbyoei.  Jimbyoei and his cronies had concocted a phony prophecy by a mythical missionary of old that “foretold” Shiro’s coming to liberate the downtrodden Christians; and then they acclaimed the boy as their prophesied redeemer in a public ceremony.

            Thus was the rebellion seeded.  After the explosion in Shimabara, closet-Christians in the nearby Amakusa Islands flocked to Shiro’s flag to wage war on their own oppressors; meanwhile, entire villages throughout the Shimabara Peninsula were vowing in writing to obey Shiro to the death.  After an unsuccessful attempt to take their despotic feudal lord’s fortress at Tomioka, Shiro’s Amakusan army sailed to Shimabara with him to join their Shimabaran brethren, and all barricaded themselves and their families inside the disused fortress called Hara Castle, in the south of the Peninsula.

            On Christmas Day the Shogun learned of the rebellion and commissioned a general, Itakura Shigemasa, to go down south to Shimabara and wipe out the despised Catholics.  His army—thrown together with units from various feudal clans—didn’t wait for his orders but attacked as soon as they had arrived at Hara Castle, expecting an easy victory; the Christian marksmen atop the castle walls mauled them.  Enlightened, the invaders withdrew to lick their wounds and prepare themselves for real warfare.

            Reinforcements came, but the rebels repulsed Itakura’s second, bigger assault.  Now he had to save his honor:  he ordered an all-out attack on Japanese New Year’s Day (Feb. 14, 1638).  Many contingents fought bravely, but the determined rebels exhausted them, and when Itakura tried to rally his army for a last, grand effort, all the mustered units refused to budge.  Now Itakura must save face:  grimly leading only his own little band of vassals, he charged the fortress.  A hail of bullets killed the men on his left and right, but he made it to the wall and died trying to scale it alone, shot through the chest.

             Now a new, veteran general—Matsudaira—arrived with orders from the Shogun to stand clear and starve the Christians out.  He surrounded the fortress with over 125,000 men and backed them up with cannon-fire from both the government camp and a 20-gun Dutch merchantman anchored offshore.

            That winter was severe, and inside Hara Castle the cold and hunger did its work:  what had been a triumphal juggernaut transformed into a purgatory.  By March they had run out of rice and some were eating the empty sacks; nor was there any more drinking-water or firewood, nor gunpowder.  The Shogun’s vise was pinching their Christian kingdom and their very bellies, while cannonballs came screaming in to crunch flesh and bone.  One went through Shiro’s sleeve and killed four or five of his companions.

            Matsudaira masterfully played his hand once he had tightened the vise.  He tempted the Christians with promises:  rice and homes and land and tax-relief, if only they would leave their fortress and abandon the Faith.  These tempting lies dropped out of the sky, delivered as letters wrapped around arrows shot over the castle walls.  Some nonbelievers, dragged into the rebellion against their will, did defect, but the Christian stalwarts shot testimonies back to the besiegers:  they wanted only to worship Christ; that denied them, they would just have to die, they declared.  Letting them live as Christians, of course, was not an option, for the Shogun, trapped in his private darkness, viewed the Faith with terror.

            By spring the rebels were desperate.  In a sudden night-sortie in early April they tried to rob food and ammo from the government camp, but were repulsed with heavy losses: the Christians had made the mistake of setting fire to enemy tents and thus illuminated themselves, perfect targets for massed musketry.  After the raiders’ retreat into the fortress, the government troops cut open the stomachs of Christian dead and found they had been eating only leaves.

             The Shogun’s hour had finally arrived.  On the Eleventh of April 1638, his horde swarmed over the outermost wall of Hara Castle, having first sent down a rain of fire-arrows.  The wasted defenders fought with anything at hand—empty guns, cooking-pots—while their Christian kingdom burned all around them.  The innermost wall, the wall of the citadel at the mountaintop, was stormed on the morning of the Twelfth, and the fighting ended at noon, when the last rebel combatant was dead.  Those taken prisoner—the elderly, the ill, mothers and their children—they beheaded, without exception.  “Even the little girls,” one observer lamented.

             The Shogun’s army ringed the burnt-out Hara Castle with 10,860 impaled Christian heads; they sent 3,300 more to Nagasaki as a lesson to that town’s surviving Catholics.  As a warning to the Portuguese there—who had brought the Catholic Faith to Japan—they stuck four heads, including Shiro’s, onto stakes at the foot of the bridge to the island where the Portuguese were now confined.  Soon the Portuguese would be banned from Japan entirely, and all Japanese required to appear before a magistrate annually and tread on a Christian sacred image to prove their loyalty to the Shogun.

          In the wake of the rebellion, barely a soul remained in the south of the Shimabara Peninsula: all but the rare deserter had died at the hands of the Shogun’s army. In order to have the land tilled, therefore, the Shogunate repopulated the Peninsula by forcibly removing peasants from Shikoku and Honshu and installing them willy-nilly in the ghost towns of Shimabara.

            In Japan’s Catholic heyday, at least seventy Catholic churches dotted the Shimabara Peninsula; today only three remain. But every spring at cherry-blossom time, the villagers of Minami Arima do remember the holocaust of the 37,000 with a Buddhist memorial service in the evening, and the next day with a parade, with Amakusa Shiro made up like a dainty geisha, and the Shogun’s general a proper man.

          Perhaps a fitting testament to the expunging of the Faith from what was once a Catholic land—after all, a prettied-up cartoon parody of that would-be forgotten slaughter of yesteryear fits in well with the animé unreality that so enthralls the Japan of today. But the made-up fun obscures the monstrous truth of the slaughter of those 37,000 who believed themselves ‘timely born to die for the Faith,’ and it ignores the countless martyred children: martyrs because they, unlike so many of their parents, had not chosen to rebel, but had been scooped up by their parents and rushed to Minami Arima and through the gates of Hara Castle. These the Shogun’s hordes executed for the crime of being Christian. Even the little girls.

          When will Hara Castle’s little martyrs be remembered?

Copyright © 2005, 2013, 2015 by Luke O’Hara
(Originally published, in an earlier version, in Our Sunday Visitor)

Wednesday, February 27, 2019


Paulo Uchibori and Sons, 
Dauntless Christian Samurai Martyrs

  
          On February 28, 1627,  atop a volcano whose boiling springs are known today as “Unzen Hell,” a fearless Catholic samurai named Paulo Uchibori shouted out his final words to the ears of all his mortal torturers and all the heavenly host: “Praised be the Most Blessed Sacrament!”
          He had endured a regime of tortures far beyond the reach of any merely-mortal power of endurance. First, imprisonment along with his three sons in a dank, pestilential dungeon of  a prison within the walls of Shimabara Castle; next, taken out to the grounds at the edge of the castle’s moat, forced to watch as the lord of Shimabara’s torturers cut off his beloved sons’ fingers—even five-year-old Ignacio didn’t flinch—before they began to cut his own; then, stripped naked and taken out in a boat along with other prisoners, forced to watch the taunting and drowning of his sons in the cold waters of Shimabara Bay. Then, with the word CHRISTIAN branded on his forehead, he was exiled into untouchability and homelessness, with all Shimabarans forbidden to give him food or shelter lest they too taste the ruler’s wrath. The effect of all this on Paulo Uchibori was, contrary to the ruler’s and his torturers’ expectations, to prove the mettle of Paulo and his Christian fellows in the crucible of hell’s most sadistic torments.
The story of Paulo Uchibori and his heroic sons, along with stories of many other Christian martyrs of Japan, is to be found within the pages of this author’s latest book,

Samurai of Light: the Real Martyrs of “Silence”
   available here  (print edition) and here  (Kindle edition)  on Amazon.com.
©2019 by Luke O’Hara, Kirishtan.com


Monday, January 28, 2019

A February Conversion


   
          It was the first of June, Octave of Corpus Christi, in the Year of Our Lord 1617. On the virgin soil of an offshore islet in Ōmura Bay, three brothers in faith were on their knees awaiting the executioner’s blade. Two were foreign priests, the other a Japanese Catholic layman.
          The layman, surnamed Tanaka, had been christened Leo at his baptism. Leo Tanaka had lately been laboring as assistant and host to Padre João Machado, a Jesuit martyred just ten days before on the orders of Ōmura Sumiyori, the apostate daimyō of the Ōmura domain. This ruler of tens of thousands of Catholics, christened ‘Bartolomeo’ like his grandfather before him, had by his apostasy besmirched the very name by which his heroic grandfather had planted the Faith in Ōmura and defended it at great peril against the frenzied opposition of zealous enemies of Christ.
          Now that frenzy ruled all Japan. Under the heel of the Shōgun Hidetada, every visible manifestation of the Faith that Saint Francis Xavier had brought to Japan sixty-eight years earlier was now being stamped to bloody pulp and ground into the dust. To his private horror, Sumiyori, the erstwhile Bartolomeo, must partake in this holocaust lest he provoke the Shōgun’s lethal displeasure.
          On the Japanese Lunar New Year of 1617, Sumiyori had visited the Shōgun Hidetada at his palace in Edo to make his obligatory annual show of obeisance. Bartolomeo Ōmura Sumiyori was a third-generation Catholic. His grandfather, the great Bartolomeo Ōmura Sumitada, had been the first daimyō in Japan to receive baptism. This first Bartolomeo of Ōmura had championed Christ at risk of his domain, his fortune, and his life, facing treason and rebellion because of his conversion, and he had maintained the Faith unto death in spite of all that hell could throw at him. His son, though, christened Sancho, had thrown away the Faith in a fit of pique, and his son, the benighted grandson christened Bartolomeo, had been a faithful Catholic all his life—until that wrenching visit to the Shōgun’s palace in February of 1617. There, having avowed to the Shōgun Hidetada that he had expelled all Catholic priests from his domain, Bartolomeo Ōmura Sumiyori was confronted with reports from Nagasaki to the effect that he was in fact conniving at the continued presence of priests in Ōmura. The shaken daimyō, kowtowing to the lethal pressure of the Shōgun’s will, submitted to the ruler’s orders: he would hunt down and execute some Catholic priests in a bloody display of fealty to his Christ-hating earthly lord.   
On May 22, 1617, Sumiyori made his demonstration with the double beheading of Jesuit Father João Machado and Franciscan Friar Pedro de la Asunción atop a hill named Kōri just north of his castle. By this one blood sacrifice of his own Catholic conscience, Sumiyori intended to frighten all Christian missionaries out of his domain and thereby prove his fealty to the Shōgun once and for all. Contrary to the apostate former-Bartolomeo’s expectations, though, the killing of those two priests aroused fervor among the Catholics of Ōmura and its environs, a fervor that would culminate in a holy tsunami of faith, hope, and death-conquering love sweeping over nearby Nagasaki to flood back into Ōmura and engulf the traitorous apostate in the backwash of his sin.
       Let us behold that victory of Eternal Life over merely-mortal death. When news of that double martyrdom in Ōmura reached Nagasaki, the cradle of Japanese Christendom, Friars Alfonso Navarrete, Dominican, and Hernando de San José, Augustinian, met to confer on an inspiration stirring both their hearts. They concurred that there was only one course of action that could satisfy their Christian consciences: they must strike out for Ōmura and there preach the Gospel far and wide to bring back into the Church the many apostates who had succumbed to the pressures of the Shōgun’s persecution. Next they would try to win the apostate Daimyō of Ōmura’s soul back to Christ; that failing, they would render up their own souls to God by handing their bodies over to martyrdom. Having vowed to carry out this mission, the two priests pledged obedience to one another. Father Navarrete then met with his Dominican brethren in Nagasaki to announce his decision; he also appointed a successor to replace him as the Dominican Provincial in Japan. Father Hernando, the sole Augustinian in Japan, wrote to his brethren in Manila, urging them to send more laborers into the harvest.
          Japan was now in its third year of an absolute, empire-wide ban on Christianity that would extend for the next two and a half centuries and beyond. Public worship had not been risked since the early days of 1614, with all priests hiding underground or going incognito, saying Mass only in secret lest they be delivered up to the authorities for imprisonment and inevitable execution. Nevertheless, a mere three days after that double martyrdom in Ōmura, Father Alfonso Navarrete and Father Hernando de San José marched out to the city gate of Nagasaki, set up a makeshift altar, and said Mass before a crowd of thousands. Penitent Christians flocked to the front of the crowd, falling to their knees to confess their sins sacramentally. Many couples who, robbed of their pastors, had been living in common-law marriages, came to partake of the Sacrament of Holy Matrimony. Faithful Christians long starved of the Bread of Life found their souls’ hunger fulfilled in the Eucharist.
The next day—Friday, May 26—the two priests set out for the Ōmura domain. Their first stop was Ikiriki, a farming village nestled in the verdant hills overlooking the southwestern shore of Ōmura Bay. These sun-blessed hills produce luscious crops of mandarin oranges, a sanative God-given, perhaps, to counter the deathly gloom that had settled on the daimyō’s castle on the opposite shore. At Ikiriki, Fathers Alfonso and Hernando restored 300 apostates to communion with the Church; among these was Lino Tomonaga, the very sheriff who, feigning a desire to confess his sins, had lured the recently-martyred Friar Pedro de la Asunción into a trap and arrested him.  
          On Sunday the two priests set up an altar outdoors and said Mass before a multitude. Friar Hernando preached his homily “with great zeal,”[1] and afterwards both men taught the crowd from Friar Luis de Granada’s Sinner’s Guide. From Ikiriki they moved on to Nagayo, where they said their final public Mass before a crowd starved of the Sacraments and hungering for the Bread of Life. In the night, under the twinkling vault of Heaven, came a cloud of flickering lights crawling across the bay from the apostate former-Bartlomeo’s castle: boats full of men with flaming torches, underlings sent by that Judas to do his dirty work—to tear the two Heaven-sent shepherds away from their forlorn lambs. At the sight of the approaching horde, the priests intoned the Te Deum, a hymn of welcome to their coming Passion.
          Once arrived on shore, their captors, all baptized-but-fallen Catholics, fell to their knees with faces and palms to the earth in grave bows of shame and apology. The priests presented gifts to these men, a custom congruent with a visit to a patron of high degree. For the wretched apostate daimyō to whom their lives and fortunes would soon be delivered, however, their only gift was a letter to be put into his hand on their arrival on the far shore: a plea not for their lives, but for his return to sanity—a warning and instruction that he, a baptized Catholic, was most certainly bound for hell should he not repent of his recent, barbaric crime, restore his own soul to the Faith, and free his subjects to do the same.
          When these two faithful priests arrived at the apostate lord of Ōmura’s castle on the southeastern shore of the bay, he charged them with crimes against the dictates of the bloodthirsty Shōgun up in Edo. In reply, Father Navarrete explained—as if a baptized, born-and-raised Catholic lord should need such basic schooling—that he acknowledged the reign of the Emperor of Heaven above the throne of any earthly king. Silenced by that insurmountable truth, Ōmura Sumiyori had his captives thrown in jail while he hunkered down with his council of advisors to mull over his options. Certainly the thought of returning to Christ, whatever the earthly consequences, must have entered his head. In the end, though, the formerly-Catholic ex-Bartolomeo could not find within his harried soul the grit to scale that Everest of truth from whose summit he would assuredly view Beatitude in aeternam.  Instead, he surrendered to the crushing gloom that had descended on his soul, his castle and his state, a slavering leviathan whose taste for Christian souls would not be quenched by any head-count of priests or brothers or catechists or simple children of the Faith.
He would kill the priests along with that irksomely-faithful Catholic Leo Tanaka, the lay churchman who had been languishing in Ōmura’s jail ever since the prison guards gave in to his pleas that he be thrown into that stinking hell to join his pastor, Father João Machado. Machado, the Jesuit, Sumiyori had beheaded along with a Franciscan named Friar Pedro; he had hoped that those killings would end all this trouble. How very naïve he had been; perhaps he had never heard that axiom about the blood of martyrs being the seed of the Faith, or perhaps he had never really believed it. Perhaps he simply had never believed. At any rate, after three days his orders went out, along with minute instructions as to how the appointed place of death was to be shrouded from the public eye.
          The three faithful servants of Sumiyori’s former God would be spirited out of his prison at the edge of his castle-town, slipped into a boat, and shunted from islet to islet in a furtive, zigzag pilgrimage across Ōmura Bay, a frantic wriggle to shake off the clinging believers, the proscribed Catholic faithful who nevertheless showed up at every landfall to hear a word of healing, to beg a final blessing, to wring out rushed confessions from their long-tortured souls. For their land itself, the very womb from which had sprung Christian Nagasaki, was in the mighty Shōgun’s vise, and all Heaven’s ears would be witness to the shrieks of those souls abandoned to its iron teeth by their ruler’s treason. Among these were the ex-Bartolomeo’s own grandmother and aunt.
On their furtive voyage to martyrdom, the two priests managed to write letters of instruction and encouragement to the brethren they would leave behind, pleading for unity among the Catholic religious orders struggling to keep the Faith alive beneath the Shōgun’s heel.  Father Navarrete urged his soulmate in Nagasaki, Paolo Garrucho de la Vega, to keep up the work closest to his heart, the saving of abandoned babies.[2]
          Finally, arrived at the last stop—an islet called Takashima—the condemned men thanked their executioners with affection and offered them the sakazuki, a farewell drink, having saved some good wine made for Mass for this glorious farewell.[3] Leo Tanaka, meanwhile, had been joined to their party on the third islet in their pilgrimage to eternal life via blessed death. Their time was at hand, the fullness of God-given time in their meager tents of flesh: now to kneel on that virgin soil appointed to be baptized with their blood.  
The three fell to their knees with Father Navarrete in the middle, a crucifix in one hand and a candle in the other. Friar Hernando, to his right, held a candle and a rosary, as did faithful layman Leo Tanaka, on the left. Thus: three witnesses, three lights, two rosaries, with Christ crucified in the center. 
The first head to fall was Friar Hernando de San José’s. He requested permission to touch the headsman’s sword; taking the blade into his hand, he kissed it and blessed it with these words: “Our death is a living epistle that will go to Spain and Rome to awaken other evangelical laborers.”[4] That blade took off his head in one perfect slash.
Father Navarrete was next. At the first cut, the sword merely bit into his neck to reach his ears: the dauntless priest rose to his feet and looked up to regard the heavens. Perhaps he was granted a glimpse of the eternal home prepared for him. On his knees once more, he felt the sword’s bite a second time, but still his stubborn tent of flesh clung to life and breath. Only with a third, reluctant slash did the swordsman finally find his mark and send Alfonso Navarrete home.
Now Leo Tanaka, so long prepared for death, found himself alone. He thought himself unworthy to die with the two heroic Fathers whose heads now lay on the earth before him, their headless corpses just to his right, seeding the land with holy martyrs’ blood—but this, after all, was ordained. Humbly Leo bowed his head to add his own lifeblood to that Faith-seeding stream: he joined his brethren on the second slash of the sword.
On their hurried voyage to martyrdom, the two priests had written pleas for Christian unity in Japan. In death their prayer was answered by a sign: the coffins of the priests martyred ten days earlier were opened, and Father Navarrete’s body was put in with the beheaded corpse of Father João Machado; Friar Hernando was united with Friar Pedro de la Asunción. Thus, four religious orders united in death: Dominican, Jesuit, Augustinian, and Franciscan.
Their two coffins were weighted with stones and furtively sunk into the sea: perhaps the apostate lord of Ōmura feared the power of relics as much as he did the Truth those living witnesses had preached to him. Even Leo Tanaka’s remains he had whisked away to be sunk into the same waters, wrapped in a net and also charged with stones.
The Faith, however, did not sink into oblivion with those stones. Indeed, her seeds were germinating far and wide: in Ōmura and Nagasaki, in Urakami, Sotome, and the Gotō Islands, in Shimabara and Amakusa—a far-flung seedbed of heroic souls hidden from all but God’s all-seeing eyes, reaching for Heaven, groping for the Light, ready to burst through that soil stamped hard and dull beneath the Shōgun’s heel.

Copyright © 2019 by Luke O’Hara
Main website: Kirishtan.com



[1]               Léon Pagès, Histoire de la religion chrétienne au Japon depuis 1598 jusqu’à 1651. (Paris: Charles Douniol, 1869), 360.
[2]               Pagès, 363.
[3]               Ibid, 364.
[4]               Ibid, 365.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Of Love and Union, a Saga of Christ in Japan

If you're interested in the stories of the Japanese martyrs, you might want to read my historical novel on that subject, available here:

Thursday, September 27, 2018

The Great Martyrdom at Nishi-zaka, September 1622


The Great Martyrdom, 10 September 1622
            Below I have transcribed an account of the Great Martyrdom of 1622 from an English translation (1705) of Jean Crasset’s Histoire de l’Eglise du Japon (History of the Church in Japan), published in Paris in 1689. I have changed only the archaic capitalizations (in the original, all nouns were capitalized) and the inaccurate or non-standard renderings of Japanese names. Otherwise, the translator’s spellings and punctuation remain.
             
Depiction of the Great Martyrdom by an anonymous Japanese artist.
Credit: By Japanese artist, unknown [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

            We begin this book [The Sixteenth Book of Crasset’s History] with one of the most glorious sights that hath yet appear’d in Japan. One and fifty, partly religious, and partly seculars, burnt alive, and beheaded for the Holy Faith, and the celebrated Father Spinola of the Society of Jesus, at the head of the troop, whose precious death falls next under our consideration.
          Gonroku, Governour of Nagasaki, pursuant to his last instructions from Court, order’d Hikoemon Lieutenant to the Prince of Omura, to bring all the prisoners in those parts, under a strong guard to Nagasaki. In the mean while, he pick’d up at home of men and women, to the number of thirty, and condemn’d them to be beheaded, for professing the holy Faith.
          These good Religious had now laid four years languishing in the prisons of Omura. Nine of them were of the Society of Jesus, the rest partly of St. Dominick, and partly of St. Francis’s Order, together with ten pious Christians. They lay winter and summer, expos’d to the weather. Brother Fernandez was perfectly starv’d to death. Father Charles Spinola never once chang’d his cloaths in three years time, so that he was in a manner cover’d over with odure and filth. But the greatest torment of all was the intollerable stench, and noisomness of the prison, and it was so streight withall, that they had not room to lie in. Moreover, they wou’d not so much as let them move out of the spot, for the common ease and benefit of nature, which bread such swarms of vermin about them, that they were little better than eaten alive. In a word, the place was in it self a perfect resemblance of Hell, and their life (abstracting from the interiour quiet of their souls) a continual martyrdom. Their common allowance was a spoonful of black rice boil’d in water, with porridge made of roots, and sometimes a herring half rotten ; but this dainty was soon retrench’d.
          The Governour of Omura having orders to conduct the Prisoners to  Nagasaki, chose out of the respective Orders to the number of twenty four, viz. nine of the Society [of Jesus], namely Father Charles Spinola, and Father Sebastian Kimura, with seven other novices, who made their vows afterwards to the foresaid Father Spinola, as the Provincial had directed. The rest were all Dominicans and Fryars. But as it happen’d heretofore, in the case of the Forty Martyrs at Sebaste, so it fair’d now with these Saints, all did not gain the crown, for two sunk under torments, as Father Spinola had more than once foretold.
          All the prisoners were ship’d off for Nangoya [Nagayo], besides two Priests of the Order of St. Dominick and St. Francis, and the guards strictly charg’d to let none speak with them on the way. This notwithstanding, one Leo Sukezayemon, a noble Japonian, made up to Father Kimura, and recommending himself to his prayers, cut off a piece of his garment by way of relick.
          From this village began the glorious cavalcade of the Martyrs. First of all went an officer, and numbers of guards after him, both foot and horse, arm’d with lances, pikes, and musquets. Next after them follow’d Father Spinola, and then the rest of the Martyrs, but without any order or distinction. Each of them had a cord about his neck, and an executioner at his side, to drag him along, God so permitting, for the greater glory of his Saints.
          Being benighted at Urakami, they shut them up in a double enclosure, but the rain coming on at the same time, were forc’d to remove them into a little straw hut till next morning. At break of day three Christians were permitted to speak with them, and amongst the rest, Father Spinola’s catechist, who brought him the first news of his death [-sentence]. The Father was overjoy’d at the account, and in acknowledgment of the happy tidings, presented him with a discipline [a scourge] which he had us’d in prison, and a pair of beads. These were all the riches of that holy man.
          He desir’d extremely to enter into the field of battel in his surplice, with an embroider’d banner of the name of Jesus in his hand, which he had caus’d to be made for this purpose, and design’d that Father Kimura should do the same, but the guards positively refus’d it. Then they mounted them again on horseback, and conducted them in the same order as before, to the place of execution, about a league off. The ways were all lin’d with people, and the Christians from all parts flock’d thither to ask their blessing, weeping and lamenting to see their Pastors, who came from the end of the world to teach them the way of salvation, so barbarously murther’d.
          Drawing near to the place of execution, on an eminence near the sea side, within sight of Nagasaki, they found the whole bordering plain clad with people, insomuch, that it was impossible to distinguish what the Saints spoke, for the noise and clamour of the multitude. Father Kimura indeed raising his voice, pray’d a moment’s silence, and then said (so that all might hear him) He long’d with all his heart to let them know what joy he felt in his soul upon his approaching end ; but the noise of the people depriv’d us of the rest of his discourse, which he pronounc’d with the zeal of an apostle and Martyr.
          Notwithstanding their earnestness to consummate the sacrifice, a stop was put to the execution, till such time as thirty more of their companions, who were condemn’d for harbouring the priests, had joyn’d them. They brought with them their wives, children, and neighbours, as also the families of the four martyrs, that were burnt alive some years before. Being then all arriv’d, they enter’d the list in their robes of ceremony, and express’d in their looks the comfort they had of dying with the Fathers.
          They ty’d those that were to be burnt to stakes, but so slightly, that if courage fail’d, nothing was easier than to make an escape. All the religious were bound, except one John Chūgoku, of the Society, whom they beheaded for want of a stake. Father Spinola falling on his knees, embrac’d the wood, to the surprise of the heathens, who much admir’d to see a man take pleasure in dying so cruel a death.
          They planted twenty five stakes in a line, and set guards both at the water side, and at the foot of the hill, to hinder the people from approaching, and a kind of throne in the middle, cover’d with China tapistry, for Sukedayu the Governour’s Lieutenant to sit on, who presided in the action.
          The time of sacrifice now drawing near, Father Spinola, to excite his companions, and the other Christians to praise God for his great mercy, began to entone the Psalm Laudate Dominum omne Gentes ; immediatly the rest answer’d, and made up altogether a most harmonious concert, insomuch, that if we may believe Gonzales Montero, in his informations at Manila (who was present at the action) he had never heard any thing so charming in his whole life.
          The Psalm ended, Father Spinola addressing himself to the Lieutenant, and the rest of the company, began this discourse:
     You may guess, noble Japonians, by the joy that appears on our countenances, at the sight of these dreadful torments, whether we came from the other world to seize on your estates, or to teach you the way of salvation. The Christian religion inspires her children, with a contempt of all worldly greatness. It’s your souls happiness we aim at, and not your riches. Fortunate Japonians that embrace the law of the true God, for everlasting happiness will be your recompence. On the contrary, the lot of those that still persist in their infidelity, is Hell fire for all eternity, and flames infinitely more active than those we are now to encounter. The torments we are here to suffer, are of a short continuance, but the glory that’s prepar’d for us in Heaven, and the blessed life, which thro’ his mercy we hope to enjoy, will never have an end. For the rest, don’t think to terrify the preachers of the Gospel with these frightful appearances, for the greatest happiness that can attend us in this life, is to suffer and die for the God we adore and worship.
          Then turning to the Portuguese merchants, who were not a little concern’d for their death, he made them so moving a discourse, that one of the heads of them resolv’d to leave the World upon it, and enter into the Society of Jesus.
          In the mean while, the executioners were preparing to do their office, and march’d up to those that were to be beheaded. With that the thirty glorious champions fell on their knees, and whilst they were fitting themselves for the work, a gentlewoman of the company call’d Isabella Fernandez (Widow to Don Dominick George the Portuguese) took up her child, who was only four years of age, and call’d to Father Spinola to recommend him to God in his prayers. They call’d the child Ignatius as being born on that Saint’s day. Father Spinola baptiz’d him, and his parents consecrated him to God from his infancy. Being amongst the rest of the croud, and clad after a decent manner, the eyes of the whole multitude were upon him, but Father Spinola not discerning him, cry’d out in a concern to his mother ; Where’s little Ignatius? What’s become of him? With that the devout parent took him up in her arms, and shewing him to the Father, reply’d again : Behold him here in my arms, he is pleas’d to die with me, and I freely sacrifice to God what’s dearest to me in the world, my son, and my life. Then turning to the child, Behold (said she) him that made you a son of God, and gave you a life, better than what you are now going to lose. Recommend your self to his prayers, and beg his blessing.
          With that the child fell down on his knees, and joyning his hands, did as the mother had order’d. The people were all strangely mov’d at the passage, insomuch, that the officers were forc’d to hasten the execution for fear of a tumult. The first that suffer’d was Mary, widow to Andrew Tokuan the Martyr. Her head and two more fell down at the child’s feet; and yet he was not in the least surpris’d ; what’s more, when they beheaded his mother who stood next him, he did not so  much as change colour ; on the contrary, falling on his knees, and loosening himself the collar of his coat, cheerfully submitted to the sword.
          Father Spinola stood all the while and beheld this butchery from his stake. Questionless the sacrifice of so many noble victims, was a most agreeable spectacle, at the same time, he could not but be sensible of the death of little Ignatius. This first scene over, the executioner set fire to the wood, which stood a matter of five and twenty foot from the Martyrs, and this to prolong their torments, and force them to renounce the Faith.
          The fire being well kindled, a hideous shout was rais’d round the plain, some wept, others lifted up their eyes to Heaven, others cry’d for mercy, the Martyrs only were silent, and stood immoveable in the flames. The first that carried the Crown was Father Charles Spinola, and that after two hours rosting at the fire. Probably he died first, as being of a more delicate complection, or thro’ weakness by his long sickness in prison, or perchance by favour of the sparks, which happen’d to light on his cloaths before the fire reach’d his stake. All the time of his suffering he stood streight up, with his eyes, fix’d on Heaven and the cords being burnt, his body fell down into the flames, and was consum’d in a holocaust, to the glory of His Divine Majesty.
          The other religious follow’d presently after, and honour’d our Faith, with their invincible constancy and patience. Above all, the Novices of the Society were particularly taken notice of, as expressing a celestial kind of sweetness in their looks, which continu’d with them to their last breath. The last that died, was Father Sebastian Kimura of the Society, and if we credit the report of those that were present, he liv’d by their hour-glasses, three full hours in the flames.
          All had not the same resolution, for two young men of the troop, who had lately enter’d into a religious order, unhappily verify’d Father Spinola’s prediction. Being overcome with the torments, after a short struggle to break the cords, without regard to the good advice of Brother Lewis of the Society who stood next them, they forc’d their way thro’ the fire, and falling at the Judge’s feet, call’d upon Shaka and Amida. Virtue is charming in the opinion of its very enemies, on the contrary, the lewdest libertines profess a dislike and aversion to vice. Both one and t’other were verifyed on this occasion. Every one applauded the constancy of the Martyrs, at the same time they conceiv’d so strange an aversion to these apostats, that nothing would serve them, but they must commit them again to the flames, and in effect they did.
          A secular Japonian also, breaking his cords, attempted an escape, but reflecting upon the constancy of his wife, who had newly suffer’d before his eyes, he was so touch’d, that he flung himself again into the fire, and so repair’d his fault by a voluntary sacrifice of his life. They speak variously of this latter : However this is certain, he never call’d upon Amida, nor is there any proof, that he deny’d his faith, if then he committed any fault, and afterwards return’d back to his stake, without all question, Almighty God had mercy on his soul.
          The Martyrs being all expir’d, the Christians forc’d the enclosure to carry off their relicks. Amongst the rest Leo Sukezayemon disguising himself in a soldier’s coat, press’d in with the guards, and stole one of the Martyrs bones, but being taken in the theft, they seiz’d him, and soon after put both him and his wife to death at Omura. The Governour to hinder the Christians from taking away their relicks, order’d the soldiers to pile up all the bones and instruments, as also the very earth that was stain’d with their blood, and burn them to ashes, and these too to be thrown into the sea. All they preserved was the head of Mary, wife to Tokuan, which was given to the Christians in consideration of her near alliance to the Governour.
          Their martyrdom fell on the Second [sic] of September, 1622, and is commonly call’d the Great Martyrdom, in regard of the number and quality of the persons that suffer’d. We may add also the vast concourse of heathens and Christians that came from all parts to see the execution. As for this last I appeal to a letter of Father Baza’s, then Rector of the College of Nagasaki.
          Nagasaki (says he) is this day thinner of people than before the persecution, and yet by common computation, they reckon in and about the town, a matter of fifty thousand Christians. Probably curiosity, and devotion together, invited them abroad to assist at the great solemnity. Hence also it’s easie to conjecture what trouble the good Fathers were in, to see their flourishing Church cultivated for the space of sixty years with continual labour and fatigue, so suddainly defac’d. Before the persecution, the number of the Christians all together, amounted to upwards of three hundred thousand, besides children. Questionless, there was nothing but the glory which redounded to God by the Martyrs sufferings, that cou’d make them anywise tolerable easie. Behold the names of those that dy’d on this memorable day.

The names of those that were burnt alive.
Of the Order of St. Dominick.
Father Francis Morales.
Father Joseph.
Father Alphonsus de Mina.
Father Hyacinth Orfanelli.                                                      
Father Angelus Ferrie.
Brother Alexius the Japonian.

Of the Order of St. Francis.
Father Peter Avila.
Brother Leo.
Father Richard of St. Ann.
Brother Vincent.

Of the Society of Jesus.
Father Charles Spinola.
Brother Thomas Akohoshi.
Father Sebastian Kimura.
Brother Michael Shumpu.
Brother Peter Sampo.    
Brother Anthony Kiuni.
Brother Consaluus [Gonzalo] Fusai.
Brother Lewis Cavara [Kawaura].

Seculars burnt alive.
Anthony a Coreyan.
Paul a Japonian.
Luke Irtites a Japonian. [Error: the original French reads ‘Luce des Irtites Japonnoise’ i.e. a lady. Perhaps Lucia de Freitas]
Anthony Sanga the catechist.

The names of those that were beheaded.
Brother Thomas of the Order of St. Dominick.
John of the Third Order of St. Dominick.
Brother John Chūgoku of the Society.
Isabella Fernandes, wife to Don Dominick George a Portuguese, who was burnt for the Faith.
Ignatius her son, at the age of four years.
Mary widow to Andrew Tokuan the Martyr.
Marina a widow.
Mary wife to Anthony Corey [Antonio, a Korean] the Martyr.
Apollonia a widow.
Agnes, widow to the late Martyr Cosmas.
John son to Anthony Corey [son of Antonio, a Korean], a youth of 12 years of age.
Peter his brother at the age of three years.
Mary widow to John Shun the Martyr.
Dominica a widow.
Magdalen wife to Anthony Sanga the Martyr.
Dominick Yamanda [Yamada or Hamada].
Mary late wife to Paul who was burnt for his faith.
Catherine.
Thecla wife to Paul of Nangaixi [Nagaishi].
Peter his son, at the age of seven years.
Dominick Nacavo [Domingo Nakano] son to one Matthias that died for the faith.
Peter Motoyama a child of five years of age, and son to John the Martyr.
Bartholomew Kawano.
Damien and his son Michael a child at the age of five years.
Thomas.
Clement and Anthony his son, an infant of three years old.
Rufus, and Clare, the spouse of a Martyr.

*******

            Crasset’s list of Martyrs is incomplete. In reality, twenty-five were burned at the stake and thirty beheaded. His account, nevertheless, is priceless.
           
            May all of us who suffer doubt meditate on these Christian stalwarts’ lesson in faith unshakable.
                                               
Luke O’Hara

Copyright © 2018 by Luke O’Hara
Kirishtan.com
and Lukeohara.com