Wednesday, February 5, 2014

February 5th: the Dictator Hideyoshi and the 26 Martyrs

    Four hundred and seven years ago today—5 February 1597—twenty-six bloodied men and boys were crucified on a mountainside overlooking Nagasaki Bay for the crime of being Christian.  Being spat upon and ridiculed and otherwise abused, they had been marched for twenty-eight days through towns and villages and countryside toward their destination at the westernmost edge of Japan—for the Christian town of Nagasaki was, in the dictator’s eyes, the perfect place to make a show of his power.

(Toyotomi Hideyoshi)

            He had proscribed the Faith a decade earlier, perhaps in the merest fit of pique—fueled by drunkenness—and ordered all clergy, or bateren, out of Japan.  Unwilling to abandon their flocks, however, most of the clergy in the country stayed on at the risk of their lives and went incognito as it were, abandoning the Jesuit habit to wear the ordinary Japanese clothing of the day.  They knew the ruler well:  Toyotomi Hideyoshi, the Taikō, the Retired Imperial Regent.  In the Japanese scheme of things, his so-called retirement was a screen behind which to freely wield dictatorial power, and he accepted the proscribed clergy’s screen of seeming-obedience to his edict as a convenient compromise, for he needed the good offices of the Jesuit clergy in Japan to smooth his acquisition of Chinese silk and European guns through the Portuguese traders who sailed to Nagasaki from Macao.            

          But then, on October 19, 1596, the San Felipe—a Mexico-bound Spanish galleon laden with rich Chinese silks—limped into the Japanese port of Urado after having been blown off course by a typhoon.  The local daimyō (feudal lord), feigning helpfulness, had the ship towed into his harbor and right onto a sand-bar, which broke the ship's back and converted her into a shipwreck.  Now, by Japanese law, her cargo was forfeit, or so the daimyō told the Spaniards, and he quickly sent word to Hideyoshi, from whom he could expect a rich reward.            

          The Spanish captain dispatched an embassy of two Franciscan friars and two of his crewmen to Osaka to save his cargo, but such an embassy could be embarrassing for Hideyoshi:  he had already claimed the cargo for himself.  He therefore engineered an interrogation of the ship's pilot at the hands of a clever underling:  Hideyoshi’s man construed a “confession” that the friars were the vanguards of Spanish conquest; this gave the ruler an excuse to explode with rage and in his fury order the round-up and crucifixion of all Franciscans in his captive realm.  In the event, his zealous men netted six Franciscans, three Jesuits and fifteen Catholic laymen.  (Two more martyrs would be added to their number later on.)  Hideyoshi ordered their ears and noses cut off; next they were to be paraded around the cities of Kyoto, Osaka and Sakai in carts, and thereafter marched eight hundred kilometers to Nagasaki, there to be crucified.  A sympathetic official in Kyoto intervened:  only their left earlobes were cut off, but the rest of the sentence would be carried out in full.

                               (To be continued tomorrow:  please revisit my blog.)