1549 - 1644
Oratio Story (1)
The Arrival and Flourishing of Christianity
Oratio Story (2)
The Ban on Christianity and the Secret Transmission of the Faith@
The Opening of Japan and the Discovery of the Hidden Christians
The Lifting of the Ban and the Revival of Christianity
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|1854||Japan and the United States sign Convention of Kanagawa. Japan promises to open its ports to trade.|
|1858||United States and Japan sign Treaty of Amity and Commerce.|
|1865||Consecration of Ōura Cathedral.|
|1865||Discovery of the Hidden Christians.|
|1867||Fourth Urakami Crackdown.|
|1873||The Meiji government removes signboards proscribing Christianity.|
After the chaos and secularization of the French Revolution and the Napoleonic wars, the Catholic church in France was undergoing a period of revival. In 1838, the Vatican entrusted the Paris Foreign Missions Society, which was already active in Vietnam and China, with the responsibility for the repropagation of Japan. As early as 1844, missionaries went to live in the nearby Ryukyu Islands (now Okinawa) to explore the possibility of gaining entry into Japan.
In the nineteenth century, the Western powers, galvanized by the industrial revolution, began to expand overseas. In 1854, under pressure from the United States of America, Japan abandoned its policy of national seclusion. In 1858, it signed trade treaties with the principal Western powers, and the ports of Hakodate, Kanagawa, and Nagasaki were opened in 1859.
Father Prudence Girard of the Paris Foreign Missions Society came to Japan in 1859, initially as the interpreter for the French consul general. In 1863, Father Louis Furet made the move from Yokohama to Nagasaki, followed by Father Bernard Petitjean six months later. Meanwhile, the opening of the country had also inspired Pope Pius IX to canonize the 26 martyrs crucified in Nagasaki in 1597. Missionary work was resumed in Nagasaki and plans to build a new church there got underway.
© Shoji Yoshitaka
In December 1864, the missionaries in Nagasaki completed the construction of a cathedral in Ōura, in the foreign settlement overlooking Nagasaki Bay. It was officially named the Basilica of the Twenty-Six Holy Martyrs of Japan and it overlooked the location of their martyrdom. Since preaching to the Japanese was not yet permitted, the missionaries only served the Westerners from the foreign settlement. Nonetheless, the overarching reason for their return to Japan was to find the Hidden Christians of Nagasaki.
On March 17, 1865, a group of some 15 Japanese men and women from Urakami entered Ōura Cathedral and revealed their faith to Father Petitjean. According to a letter written by Father Petitjean the next day, one of the women in the group approached him saying, “Your heart and our hearts are the same,” and asking where she could find the statue of the Virgin Mary. At the time, Christianity was still banned, as it had been for two and a half centuries. But the so-called “Discovery of the Hidden Christians” (Shinto Hakken in Japanese) galvanized the Europeans who thought that relentless repression had wiped out Japan’s Christian population.
Soon after this incident, the leaders of the various Hidden Christian communities all around Nagasaki began visiting Ōura Cathedral to get guidance from the missionaries, which they then passed on to their own flocks. The organized revival of Catholicism in Japan was underway.
© Shoji Yoshitaka
The Discovery of the Hidden Christians had a major historical impact. Since the ban on Christianity was still in force in Japan, it provoked the government to rachet up its repressive stance toward the Christians, even after the Meiji Restoration in 1868. The Urakami Christians who had first confessed their faith were the subjects of a crackdown, as were Christian communities in the Gotō Islands. Ultimately, around 3,400 Christians from Urakami were exiled to 20 different domains in western Japan, where they were coerced into converting to Shinto.
Eventually, however, vigorous protests by the Western powers prompted the Meiji government to abolish the edict against Christianity. The faithful were able to come out of hiding, be baptized once again by the missionaries and return to the Catholic faith. The missionaries were able to impart proper instruction to the community leaders of the Hidden Christians and convert their houses into places of prayer in the absence of proper churches. With the collaboration of the local people, a series of churches in simple but diverse styles were built in various communities.
© Shoji Yoshitaka
The first churches were simple ones, constructed by Japanese builders working under the direction of the European missionaries. Eventually, though, the Japanese builders acquired sufficient know-how so that, with the assistance of the villagers, they were able to build wonderful (albeit unpretentious) churches by fusing Western and Japanese techniques and materials. The church exteriors were based on European forms and designs, while the interiors called upon Japanese vernacular architecture to fit with Japanese customs. For instance, the layout was designed for the congregation to remove their shoes at the entrance and pray sitting either on the floor or on tatami mats.
While most of the Hidden Christians chose to return to Catholicism, others chose to stick with the unique rituals they had developed over the centuries of underground worship. People of this latter group, which still exists in the Nagasaki region today, are known as Kakure Kirishitan.
© Shoji Yoshitaka