1630

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February 5th 1597: 26 martyrs of Japan execution

On this day in 1597, 26 Japanese Catholcs were executed by crucifixtion in Nagasaki. European Christians sent a number of missionaries to Japan throughout the sixteenth century, converting as many as 300,000 Japanese people by the end of the century. However, the Japanese government saw Catholics, an example of foreign influence, as a threat to the nation. Toyotomi Hideyoshi - the highest-ranked official of the emperor - sought to consolidate his power by expelling priests from the country, which began with the arrest of six missionaries and eighteen Japanese Christians in Kyoto and Osaka. They were forced to make the 800km walk to Nagaski, and were joined by two more Catholics along the way. When the 26 arrived at Nishizaka Hill, Nagasaki, they were executed. This marked the beginning of two centuries of Christian persecution in Japan; by 1630, Catholicism had been driven underground. The martyrs were beatified in 1627 and canonised by the Pope in 1862. Japan’s Christian ban was lifted by the Meiji government in 1873, and thousands of Christians came out of hiding. The site of the execution is now a Japanese National Sanctuary and a pilgrim spot for Catholics; Pope John Paul II visited the site in 1981. The story of the martyrdom of early Japanese converts to Christianity has been explored in Shusaku Endo’s novel Silence, which has since been adapted for screen by Martin Scorcese.

Mars
Diego Velázquez (Spanish; 1599–1660)
ca. 1638
Oil on canvas
Museo Nacional del Prado, Madrid, Spain