Roman Catholic Missions — April 7, 2010 at 12:20 pm



Tokugawa Hidetada (徳川 秀忠?, May 2, 1579—March 14, 1632) was the second shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty, who ruled from 1605 until his abdication in 1623. He was the third son of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the first shogun of the Tokugawa bakufu.

Ieyasu died June 1, 1616. This brought no relief to the Christians, for Hidetada was more violent against them than his father had ever been. Will Adams wrote:

“Now this year 1616, the old Emperor died. His son reigned in his place, and he is more hot against the Romish religion than his father was: for he hath forbidden through all his dominions, on pain of death, none of his subjects to be Romish Christian; which Romish sect to prevent every ways that he may, he hath forbidden that no stranger merchant shall abide in any of the great cities.”

On the death of Ieyasu, Richard Cocks, the English agent, thought it best to visit Yedo in order to pay his respects to the Shogun and to request a continuance of the commercial privileges hitherto enjoyed by the English.

Having at last obtained, as he supposed, documents giving the desired privileges, Cocks set out on his return to Hirado, when a letter from Kyoto led him to suspect that all might not be as he wished.

“Whereupon I sought one to read over our privileges, which with much ado at last I found a boz (or pagan priest) which did it, and was that we were restrained to have our shipping to go to no other place in Japan but Firando, and there to make sales.”

This meant a great restriction of English trade. Cocks turned back to Yedo and asked that the fuller rights granted by Ieyasu might be renewed. He “could get nothing but words.” In fact, by that time the Shogun’s Council had issued the following decree:

“Be it strictly instructed that according to the command of the Premier issued some years ago to the effect that the conversion of the Japanese to Christianity is strictly prohibited, the lords of all the provinces shall take special care to keep all people, down to the farmers, from joining that religion. Also, as the black ships, namely the English ships, belong to that religion, the provincial lords should send any of those ships to Nagasaki or Hirado, in case they happen to put in to the ports of their dominions, and no trade shall be carried on therein.”

Pages speaks of an edict issued by the Shogun that forbade the Japanese, under the penalty of being burned alive, from having any relations with the teachers of Christianity or their servants. The same penalty was to be visited on the wives and children of offenders and on their five nearest neighbors upon each side, unless these gave information. Daimyos were forbidden to keep Christians in their service.

Cocks soon went so far as to suggest to the “Admiral of the sea” that he “put it into the Emperor’s mind to make a conquest of the Manillas and drive those small amount of Spaniards from thence, it being so near unto Japan.”

With such accusations and counter-accusations made by the merchants, it is not strange that Hidetada became more suspicious of foreigners. It did not help matters when commissioners sent in search of one of Hideyori’s captains who was thought to be concealed in Nagasaki reported that many missionaries were living there and in other places. In 1617, when the daimyos went on New Year’s Day to pay their respects to the Shogun, he took the occasion to administer a severe rebuke to the Daimyo of Omura. This young man, who had been baptized in infancy, still regarded Christianity with considerable favor, and his sister was an earnest believer. He was one of those that had been ordered, in 1614, to take charge of the deportation of the missionaries. Notwithstanding his report that he had done what was commanded, there was good reason to think he knew that some of the missionaries remained in his territories or had afterwards returned thither. He was now told that heh must atone for his negligence by seeing that all were driven out. Pages says that he received secret orders to put them to death.

The letters written by these missionaries while in custody show the spirit in which they met their fate. Machado wrote:

“It is now twelve days that I have been a prisoner. I return a thousand thanks to Our Lord that He has deigned to grant me such great peace that there is nothing in the world I would prefer to my present condition of being a captive for the love of God. I return infinite thanks to His Divine Majesty that from the hour when I was made a prisoner I have not ceased to behold myself stretched upon the cross or bending beneath the edge of the sword. Blessed be the Lord who thus comforts those who for the love of him suffer even the lightest pains. I have never understood the deep meaning of the words of Scripture and the spiritual power they communicate as I have since I found myself in this condition.”

Omura’s hope that this execution would terrify the other missionaries was not realize. When Fathers Navarette and Saint-Joseph, Vicars Provincial respecftively of the Dominicans and Augustinians, heard of the martyrdoms, they judged that the time had come when they ought to conceal themselves no longer, but go openly to Omura for the sake of strengthening the faith of the Christians and calling apostates to repentance. Their purpose soon became known to the people of Nagaskai. More than three thousand persons followed them out of the city to bid them farewell and to seek their blessing. Spending the first night in the suburbs of Nagasaki, the two missionaries then went slowly on their way, stopping at several places to preach, say mass, and administer the sacraments. In one place they erected an altar in the open air. Crowds gathered about them, listening eagerly to their words and coming afterwards to kneel at their feet for a blessing. Many that had apostatized professed repentance and sought forgiveness.

The two missionaries sent a letter to the Daimyo of Omura, saying that compassion for him and his people led them to come out from their concealment in order that they might urge him to repent of his great sin, and might do all in their power for the conversion of his subjects. This appeal was ineffective. The brave men were at once thrown into prison, whence in a few days they were taken to a small island and beheaded.

These events made a great impression upon the believers. Many of those who had shown weakness became ashamed of their cowardice. In Nagasaki the Christians began to engage openly in religious services. The officials hesitated about taking action that would involve so many persons, and they also feared that in the existing state of excitement any attempts at suppression would lead to a riot.

Another martyr that suffered at this time was a high officer of Omura, who had governed the territory during the absence of the Daimyo. It was he who had arrested De l’ Assumpcion and presided at the execution of the first martyrs. The contemplation of their bravery led him to accept their religion. He became zealous in seeking to convert others, and especially to lead back those that had apostatized. The Buddhist priests soon procured his arrest and executions. The Daimyo, who wished to terrify the Christians, took pains to have it made known that he had not hesitated to condemn even his favorite officer for becoming an adherent of the proscribed religion.

There were many executions of Japanese Christians. The records from this time were crowded with accounts of their sufferings. Nagasaki furnished many of the victims. In that city Hasegawa Gonroku, a nephew of Sahioe, had become Governor. He had a number of persons arrested for sheltering the missionaries and native priests. Their wives and children were taken from them. November 25, 1618, fourteen persons were burned at the stake, among them being children aged ten, seven, and four years old, as well as a babe only two months old.

Nagasaki was not the only place where the Christians were persecuted. In 1619 orders from Yedo, and afterwards a visit of the Shogun himself, led to more active measures in Kyoto. After leaving the city, the Shogun learned that a large number of believers was confined in the prison. Angry at not having been informed of this, he ordered that all be put to death, without distinction of age or sex. October 7, 1619, the people gathered in crowds to watch the victims as they were carried to the place of execution.

The Kamo River is a river in Kyoto, Japan. Called Kamo-gawa in Japanese, it is approximately 23 km (14 mi) long and covers a land area of approximately 20.7 square kilometers. The riverbanks are popular walks for residents and tourists. In summer, restaurants open balconies looking out to the river. There are pathways on which one can walk along the river.

“The Shogun desired and commands that all these persons be put to death because they are Christians;” and then, as though it were a response in an antiphonal service, the martyrs shouted: “It is true; we die for Jesus. Blessed be Jesus!” Crossing one of the bridges over the Kamo River, the procession came to a large open space opposite the temple in which was the great image of Buddha erected by Hideyori in honor of his father. Here had been planted a number of stakes with fagots piled about them in such a way as to leave a little space for the victims, two of whom, placed back to back, were bound to each of the stakes. When Tecla descended from the cart, she was seen to be clothed in a rich garment, as though for a festival.

A great crowd of people had gathered to see the strange sight. The fagots were lighted and through the smoke could be caught glimpses of the mothers trying to quiet the little children held in their arms. One of Thecla’s daughters, who was bound near her, was heard calling out: “Mother, I cannot see any more;” and then came the woman’s reply: “Invoke the help of Jesus and of Mary.” These names uttered by many lips mingled with the cries of frightened children and the groans of the dying, until gradually all such sounds ceased and nothing more was heard but the roaring and crackling of the flames.

Through the first years of the persecution, the number of missionaries in Japan, instead of being lessened , was gradually increasing. Those sent away soon returned, while others, ready for martyrdom and even desiring it, came from Macao and the Philippines. In 1619, the Jesuits are said to have baptized one thousand eight hundred converts. The nest year four Fathers baptized over a thousand persons in the northeast Hondo.

The first execution took place in Nagasaki, August 19, 1622. Twelve Japanese, who had been sailors or passengers on the captured ship, were decapitated and their heads were placed before the stakes where Zuniga, Flores, and the Japanese captain were burned. Three weeks later (September 10, 1622) came what has since been known as the “Great Martyrdom,” when thirty persons were beheaded and twenty-five burned. Among the latter were nine foreign priests. The most famous of the number was Father Spinola, a Jesuit of noble birth, and a man of unusual talents. He had been in Japan since 1602. His scholarship had done much to commend him to the Japanese , and at Kyoto he had founded an academy for scientific studies and original investigation. He had been in captivity for nearly four years.

The Christian martyrs of Nagasaki. 16-17th century Japanese painting.

Other executions soon followed at Nagasaki, Omura, Hirado, and other places. The number of those burned or beheaded in 1622 was over one hundred and twenty, including sixteen Fathers and twenty Brothers of the different orders.

Alas! How often does the weakness of men stand out in contrast with their displays of strength. It seems strange to read that at the time when the community of suffering ought to have united the hearts of all the missionaries, there was a new display of the dissensions between the societies.

In 1623, Hidetada, following the example set by Ieyasu, had the title of Shogun transferred to his son Iemitsu. The investiture of the new Shogun was made the occasion for re-publishing the laws against Christianity. In that same year between four and five hundred persons were put to death in the immediate possessions of the Tokugawa family. On December 4, a company of fifty persons, including two foreign priests, was led out to a hill near Yedo, where preparations had been made for their execution by burning. One of the number had apostatized while in prison, and though he was led out with the others and bound to the stake, he was set free before the fagots were lighted. It is said that his place was supplied in a way that made a great impression upon all the spectators. After the preparations had been completed, a gentleman of high rank, accompanied by a retinue of servants, came riding up towards the judges. The guards made way for him, supposeing that he was the bearer of an official message. Descending from his horse, he went before the chief judge and asked why these men were being put to death in such a cruel way.

“Because they are Christians,” was the answer.

“I, too, am a Christian,” said the man, “and I demand the privilege of sharing their fate.”

The officials were in doubt as to what they ought to do. Finally the Shogun, to whom word was sent, ordered that the man should be added to the number of martyrs. When he was bound to the stake, five of his servants tried to follow him, while from among the spectators, three hundred other persons came to kneel before the judges asking that they, too, be allowed to give up their lives for the sake of Christ. The judges drove them away, and fearing a tumult, hastened to complete the execution. The remains of the victims were left under guard on the place of martyrdom.

Orders were issued in 1623 and 1624 against the Spaniards in general. All of them were to be sent out of the country. They were forbidden to take with them any Japanese, even their own wives. Moreover, no Japanese Christian was to go abroad for trade, while even unbelievers were not to go to the Philippines, it being feared that they would bring back Christian teachers in their ships.

Date Masamune (伊達 政宗?) (September 5, 1567 – June 27, 1636) was a Japanese samurai of the Azuchi-Momoyama period through early Edo period

Date Masamune now began to take a prominent place among the persecuting daimyos. His subordinates were told to make out a list of the Christians. Many of these were imprisoned and some were put to death. Among those arrested was Father Diego de Carvalho, a Jesuit. In February, 1624, he and his companions were led to the bank of a river, stripped of their clothing, and bound to stakes that were placed in a pool of icy-cold water. They were kept there for three hours and left to sit or lie upon the frozen ground. Two of the Christians soon died and their bodies, after being cut into small pieces, were thrown into the river. The others were taken back to prison, only to be led forth four days later to the same pool. They were made alternately to stand in the water, which reached to their knees, and to kneel down in it. A cold wind was blowing and ere long a snowstorm set in. As evening approached, the surface of the pool began to freeze over. One by one the sufferers became insensible. Father Carvalho was the last to die.

The stories of suffering are so terrible that modern readers will prefer to be spared the details of what was endured by those subjected to torture. Very many believers were unable to stand the test, and promised to give up Christianity. Ere we condemn their weakness, let us think how hard it is for us to endure some comparatively trifling pain, and ask whether we could bear up under the most excruciating tortures that human ingenuity could invent. Let us remember, too, that many of the sufferers had for years been shut off from their religious teachers, that some of them were new converts, and that behind none of them was that kind of strength and training that comes to those whose ancestors for generations have know that Christian religion. Yes, thousands did fall away; but there were others whose faithfulness unto death proved their sincerity and has won for them the admiration of all Christendom.

The Christians in other parts of Japan were suffering in much the same way as their brethren in Nagasaki. The missionaries that remained in the country were obliged to keep closely concealed. Not much information concerning their movements has been preserved, as it was difficult for them to send letters. The little knowledge we have of this period is chiefly concerning the sufferings to which the Christians were subjected How many lost their lives in these persecutions cannot be known. Many authors have written as though the martyrs were to be reckoned by tens of thousands or even by hundreds of thousands. One writer has given the number as over two million. Father Cardim’s Catalogue, printed in 1646, gives the names of the martyrs from 1557 to 1640; and Murdoch, after carefully checking the list, says that, apart from those perishing in the Shimabara Revolt and those put to death in connection with the Portuguese embassy of 1640, the whole number of martyrs may have been about 2000. It may be questioned, however, whether there may not have been many more who lost their lives on account of their faith. Little account was made in those days of the common people, and such officials as were bitterly opposed to Christianity would not hesitate to brush aside its followers in the humble ranks of life. Moreover, outside of the persons officially executed, there would be many deaths indirectly caused by the privations of those that were driven from their homes, who were as truly martyrs as if they had perished at the stake or by the sword.

Tokugawa Iemitsu (徳川 家光 August 12, 1604 — June 8, 1651) was the third shogun of the Tokugawa dynasty. He was the eldest son of Tokugawa Hidetada, and the grandson of Tokugawa Ieyasu. Iemitsu ruled from 1623 to 1651.

Hidetada died in 1632. His son, Iemitsu, carried out to its completion the policy his father had adopted concerning the Christians. Under his rule the land was finally rid of the foreign missionaries and most of their native helpers. Thirty-three Jesuits, six Dominicans, two Franciscans, and two secular priests were put to death. In the first year of his rule (1632) the number of missionaries had been increased by the arrival of eleven. One of these was Father Sebasion Vieyra, who had been appointed Vice-Provincial of the Jesuits and the deputy of the Bishop. The latter still remained in Macao, his failure ever to come to Japan being the cause of much adverse criticism. The account off Vieyra’s voyage will serve as an example to show how much some of the missionaries were willing to endure in order to reach a land where they knew that almost certain death awaited them.

In June, 1635, new orders were sent to all the daimyos that they should completely extirpate Christianity from their domains. Directions a year later to the Governors of Nagasaki included among other specifications the following :

“The sending of Japanese ships to foreign countries is strictly forbidden.”

“Japanese must not be sent to other countries. If any try to go secretly, they shall be punished by death.”

“Rewards to those informing against Christians shall be as follows; – For religious teachers, three hundred or two hundred pieces of silver according to their rank. In other cases, as previously provided.”

“Foreigners who progagate the religion of the Fathers, and likewise persons of evil reputation, shall as before be sent to prison in Omura.”

“Descendants of the Portuguese must not be allowed to remain in the country. Any who retain them contrary to the law shall be put to death, and their relatives shall be punished according to the degree of the offense.”

We now come to what has been known by the Japanese as the “Christian Rebellion.” It has also been named the “Shimabara Revolt” from the place where its principal events occurred. Though it may be doubted whether religious considerations held the chief place in causing this outbreak, many of the leaders were Christians, and, as the movement went on, it became more closely associated with Christianity, so that its suppression gave what at the time seemed the deathblow to that religion in Japan.

The peninsula of Shimabara formed a part of the daimiate of Arima, which has held so important a place in our history. It will be remembered that under its Christian daimyos the Buddhist temples were destroyed,many churches were erected, and most of the inhabitants professed the new faith. For a long time Arima was a stronghold of Christianity, and in its schools were educated not only those that became evangelists but also those who painted the pictures, carved the images, and made the various utensils used in the churches.

The insurrection is often described as an uprising of “farmers!. It needs to be remembered, however, that the distinction between the agricultural and the military classes was not then so marked as it afterwards became, and also that some oft these farmers were men who had once fought under Konishi and other generals in Korea, but who, having lost employment because of the misfortunes of their lords or on account of their own faith, had been forced to earn a living by the labor of their hands.

No Comments

  1. dang nice story dude.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *