5 minutes’ walk from Nagasaki JR Station:
The site of the martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan, on the hill at Nishizaka.
Following the Anti-Christian Edicts issued by the Shogun Toyotomi Hideyoshi, 26 people were executed at Nishizaka in Nagasaki City, a place where many Christians lived at the time.
This place is recognized as Japan’s only Christian pilgrimage site.
The back of the monument shows “The Way to Nagasaki”, a depiction of the path that the twenty-six martyrs walked from Kyoto to Nagasaki.
Hidden behind the monument is the Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum.
Six missionaries and twenty laymen walked barefoot the 1000km from Kyoto to Nagasaki in about a month, never losing their faith even though they knew they would soon be killed. At the end of their arduous journey, they arrived at last at Nishizaka Hill and were executed by being attached to crosses and pierced through both sides with spears.
Your very first reaction might be “why on earth did they go so far?”, but the existence of these people who were willing to die for their faith is an extremely important part of the history of Christianity in Nagasaki.
It is hoped that the “Churches and Christian Sites of Nagasaki” will be registered as World Heritage Sites in 2015. The Museum at the 26 Martyrs site is filled with valuable artifacts relating to the Christian history of Nagasaki.
Let’s look at some of the exhibits in the collection.
There are materials from around the world that show that the execution of the twenty-six martyrs is recognized as a significant event, perhaps more so than we might have expected.
Here are copperplate engravings of the twenty-six martyrs made in Spain in the 17th Century.
Following their martyrdom, their story was spread around the world to great astonishment.
This is a copy of a mural on the wall of Cuernavaca Cathedral in Mexico, which depicts the story of the twenty-six martyrs.
The cloth in the box in the center is stained with the blood of one of the martyrs, and as such has been treasured for generations as a relic.
The martyrs were revered as saints following their departure from the world, and there are apparently a number of churches around the world which were built in memory of the twenty-six martyrs.
In addition to the valuable artifacts connected to the twenty-six martyrs, the museum also houses historical materials relating to Francis Xavier, who brought Christianity to Japan.
A letter written by Xavier in his own handwriting is right here in Nagasaki!
In 1582 a Christian daimyo (lord) of Kyushu sent four young emissaries to Rome. This is known as the Tensho Embassy. One of the emissaries was Julião Nakaura, and a letter written by him is preserved at the museum.
In 2008, Julião Nakaura was beatified in Nagasaki, in the first such ceremony to take place in Japan. In the Roman Catholic Church, beatification is the act of declaring someone to be one of “the blessed”, which is the second level of reverence, one rank below that of a saint.
The letter talks about the torture, persecution and martyrdom of Christians in Japan and ends with the words “Just as I was finishing this letter the Christians came saying I should move to a safer place”.
Reading this letter, one can sense the thoughts and feelings of not just Nakaura but the other believers of the time.
This is a hanging scroll titled “Yuki no Santa Maria” (St. Mary of the Snow), passed down by generations of believers during 250 years of persecution.
Official bulletin boards displaying the Anti-Christian Edicts.
When the edicts were revoked, the Christians were at last able to practice their religion freely.
There is also a Maria Kannon, a statue of the Virgin Mary disguised as the Buddhist deity Kannon, which was damaged by the atomic bomb.
This statue survived the persecution and the atomic bomb to remain here in the present day.
As I looked at the exhibits, I couldn’t help but think “Why did they go to such lengths to preserve their religion?”, but these artifacts are the testimony to a group of people who stuck to their principles and persevered, dedicating their entire lives to observing their faith.
The staff of the museum told me that they hope that by learning about the way of life of these people who held a clearly different set of values, visitors may gain a new focus on their own lives. They aim to make this a museum that leaves a lasting impression in the minds of visitors.
During times when the museum is staffed, feel free to ask for guidance. The staff are happy to show visitors around and explain the exhibits.
The Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum
Address: 7-8 Nishizaka-machi, Nagasaki City
Opening hours: 9:00 – 17:00
Entrance fee: \500 (\300 for Junior/Senior High School Students, \150 for Elementary School Students)
Closed: New Year Period (December 31 – January 2)