Martyrs of Nagasaki | Inquirer Opinion
Looking Back

Martyrs of Nagasaki

/ 03:14 AM October 08, 2014

Nagasaki was one of Japan’s major trading ports, one of a handful open to foreign trade long before the atomic bomb was dropped on the city in 1945. Visitors interested in World War II are brought to the Atomic Bomb Museum (the No. 1 attraction, according to TripAdvisor), and from there they can go to related sites like: the hypocenter of the blast now marked with a simple black stone pillar, the Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall for the Atomic Bomb Victims, and the Nagasaki Peace Park.

Those interested in heritage apart from the Japanese temples of the Buddhist or Shinto kind should visit Glover Garden, which maintains nine Western homes built in 1868-1912 that survived the atomic bomb. One walks into the houses to get a glimpse of the lifestyle of foreign traders now as extinct as the dinosaurs. Glover Garden is on a hilltop that provides arguably the prettiest views of the port. As a bonus, there is the invented association with the Puccini opera “Madame Butterfly.” On this point romance, imagination, and tourism trump history because no Madame Butterfly ever lived there even in fiction.


Catholic tourists are reminded that Nagasaki used to be a Christian enclave in feudal Japan. Thus, it is not surprising to see Western-style churches there, like Oura church near Glover Garden that is not a place of worship anymore. Urakami Cathedral is being put up for inclusion in the Unesco World Heritage list for its historical past even if the structure is not eligible, having been completely rebuilt after World War II.

TripAdvisor’s list of the top 10 attractions of Nagasaki suggests a choice of yet another park, yet another museum—and a Penguin Aquarium! Ranked 30 on a list of 139 attractions is the 26 Martyrs Museum and Shrine that I insisted on visiting, not because I am Catholic, but because it is a place of pilgrimage for a historian: It connects Japan and the Philippines.


In the Catholic calendar, Feb. 6 is dedicated to the feast of St. Paul Miki and his companions, who were the first Christians executed in the suppression of the faith in Japan under Hideyoshi. They were arrested in Kyoto and Osaka, and imprisoned, beaten and tortured to make them renounce their faith. Stubborn to the end, they were bound and marched all the way from Kansai to Nagasaki. At one point their left ears were cut off to permanently disfigure them and serve as a stern warning to other Japanese Christians along the way: that they would suffer the same fate if they held on to their faith.

The prisoners were then brought to Nishizaka hill where 26 wooden crosses had been prepared. Each was bound to a cross which was then raised, then two men were stationed at the base of each cross. At a given signal the men drove lances through the sides of the prisoners’ body to exit on the back near the shoulders, forming a gruesome “X” and resulting in a slow and painful death.

Of the 26 martyrs of Nagasaki, six were Franciscan friars (five from Europe and one from Mexico), and 20 were Japanese (three Jesuits and 17 lay people, including three boys—Tomas Kozaki, 14; Antonio de Nagasaki, 13; and Luis Ibaraki, 12). Beatified in 1627 and canonized as saints in 1862, the 26 are now celebrated in the Church calendar as “Paul Miki and Companions”—a term that makes us forget the other 25 martyrs except Felipe de Jesus, the first Mexican saint. I’m sure that when the Catholic Church in Mexico celebrates the Feb. 6 Feast of Paul Miki and Companions, it focuses on its patron saint Felipe de Jesus, and does not care to know the names of the other martyrs.

If we go by rank and importance at the time of the execution, the most prominent of the martyrs was San Pedro Bautista (1542-1597), who served as a missionary in the Philippines before he met his end in Japan. Pedro Bautista founded the ancient church in San Francisco del Monte, aka “Frisco” in signs on jeepneys that ply this Quezon City route. In the church compound and parish that now bear his name you will find the cave where the saint sought God in silence and solitude.

San Pedro Bautista discovered the healing properties of the Laguna hot springs he called “aguas santa” (holy waters). He was sent by the Spanish governor-general in Manila as an ambassador to the court of Hideyoshi in Japan, where he impressed Hideyoshi who later donated land in Kyoto where the Franciscans established a church and a leprosarium. When the political weather changed, Pedro Bautista led the group of martyrs whose names are worth remembering when you have a special intention. Popular saints might be too busy to help, and you are better off seeking the intercession of:

Francisco Blanco, Francisco de La Parrilla, Gonzalo García, Martín Aguirre de la Ascensión, Buenaventura de Miyako, Cosme Takeya, Francisco Fahelante de Miyako, Francisco Médico de Miyako, Gabriel de Ize, Joaquín Sakakibara de Osaka, Juan Kinuya de Miyako, León Kasasumara, Matías de Miyako, Miguel Kozaki, Pablo Ibaraki, Pablo Suzuki, Pedro Sukejiro de Miyako, Tomás Idauki de Miyako, Juan de Goto and Diego Kisai.

Some saints have feasts all to themselves. The 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki share the same day, like the martyrs executed on the same hill in 1637 and now celebrated in the Catholic calendar under “Lorenzo Ruiz and Companions, Martyrs.”


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TAGS: Atomic bomb, Atomic Bomb Museum, Atomic Bomb Victims, foreign trade, Hideyoshi, Nagasaki, Nagasaki Peace Memorial Hall, San Pedro Bautista
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