The 26 martyrs of Japan
In 1597, twenty six men and boys, including foreign missionaries, were crucified together on Nishizaka hill in Nagasaki. The youngest was only 12.
In 1596, a Spanish ship called the San Felipe (St. Philip) drifted ashore in Tosa (present day Kōchi Prefecture in Shikoku). This event led the ruler of Japan at the time, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, to learn that Christian missionaries had been engaging in missionary work without permission.
Hideyoshi immediately had 24 Christians arrested in Kyoto by way of a warning to others. It was decided that they would be executed in the Christian town of Nagasaki. Starting from Kyoto, they were made to walk for a distance of around 1,000 km, which took approximately 1 month. Two more joined along the way, eager to offer up their lives in imitation of Christ. These were the first executions in Japan where it can be said with certainty that they were directly owing to their victims’ Christian faith.
After these martyrdoms, many of the later persecutions against Christians in Japan acquired a highly distinctive feature. Before long, the ultimate goal was no longer to slaughter Christians (martyrdom, after all, often served only to embolden and encourage those who were left behind), but rather to force them – through the use of increasingly cruel and extreme forms of torture – to renounce their faith.