Underground Christians kept the faith in Japan during 300 years of often brutal persecution – but their story is barely known in the Western world.
Now the ‘Hidden Christians’ are being recognised in an exhibition showcasing the moving story of Christians who remained true to their faith without priests, seminaries or churches.
The Vatican Library and Secret Archives contain testimonies of Christians who between the 16th and 19th centuries lived under violence and humiliation.
Collected by Fr Mario Marega, a missionary to Japan in the early 20th century, letters and documents written on fragile rice paper have been recently restored by the Vatican archives and library.
The Hidden Christians story begins when Christianity was first brought to Japanin 1549. A thriving Church grew up. However, persecution broke out under the ruling Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who was alarmed by the report of a Spanish captain whose vessel was shipwrecked. In an effort to impress the Japanese, the captain claimed that the missionaries were there to prepare the way for a European conquest. On a winter’s morning in February 1597, 26 Christians were crucified.
Hidyoshi’s successor Tokugawa Ieyasu decided to eliminate Christianity from Japan altogether. A Protestant English trader, Will Adams, told the Shogun about the religious wars that were ruining Europe and laid the blame on the Catholic priests. In 1614 an edict of expulsion declared that “the Kirishitan band have come to Japan…longing to disseminate an evil law, to overthrow true doctrine, so that they may change the government of the country and obtain possession of the land” (CR Boxer, The Christian Century in Japan). At this point there were an estimated 300,000 Christians in the country, with Nagasaki described as ‘The Rome of Japan’ for the number of Christians there.
Under Iemitsu, appalling cruelty was used against Christians. One English witness described seeing 55 people including women and children burnt alive. Christians among the spectators sang hymns and psalms as they burned. Seeing that martyrdom was embraced by Christians, Iemitsu turned to torture.
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SOURCE: Christian Today