This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

February 6 -- Feast of the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki

The second of the great unifying daimyos of Japan, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, ordered the abuse and crucifixion of twenty-six Christians -- Franciscans, Jesuits, & lay people, a Mexican, five Europeans, and the others Japanese -- for preaching an outlawed religion or abetting those who preached it. They had been soldiers, sword-makers, physicians, and of course missionary priests. The youngest, Anthony Denian, was a thirteen-year-old altar boy. Poor Philip of Jesus, the Mexican priest, had been shipwrecked on the coast of Japan while on a merchant ship bound for his homeland, where he was to be ordained a bishop.

To be fair to the Daimyo Toyotomi, each Christian was given the opportunity to save his life by recanting. This was after being arrested, mutilated (the left ear of each was cut off to mark them as Christians in case they got away), and then paraded from city to city for a couple of weeks while their guard encouraged the citizens to abuse them. In the end, they were marched up the Hill of Wheat in Nagasaki, hung on crosses, and then pierced with spears.

Toyotomi himself had a frustrating career. He and his predecessor and patron Oda Nobunaga were working to bring all the rival clans and warlords of Japan under a single government. Neither of those men attained the rank of shogun, but their conquests laid the groundwork for the future shogunate. Toyotomi's grand plan to invade and conquer China failed twice as his troops bogged down en route in Korea. Upon the birth of a son, Toyotomi had ordered his nephew and heir to commit suicide in order to prevent a challenge to the succession. When the nephew's family did not follow suit, he had thirty-one of them killed, including the women and children. But his son was not old enough to capitalize on the position he inherited, a weakened position anyway since the Korea plan had wasted lives and treasure. Toyotomi's one-time rival and then ally, Tokugawa Ieyasu, rose up to seize the leadership role, becoming the first shogun of Japan.

Although Christianity had been permitted in some parts of Japan in 1549, some daimyos had become increasingly fearful of European imperialism. Hideyoshi banned Christianity in his provinces in 1587, but did not fully enforce it since he still enjoyed lucrative trade with Europeans. The executions ten years later may have been a response to the openness with which the Christians were flouting his order, or it may have been to excite nationalistic spirits in advance of his second invasion of Korea. Fear of imperialism eventually overpowered the impulse to trade and Japan banned all contact with foreigners (except for four outlets, including one Dutch trade mission on an island in Nagasaki Harbor). Under this sakoku law, no Japanese could leave Japan under penalty of death and no foreigner could set foot on Japanese soil. Foreign ideas (including Christianity) were systematically rooted out of the country, to the extent that ideas can be destroyed (See Orwell, Stalin, Hitler, Mao, Pol Pot). Japanese ships were restricted in size so that sailing within the archipelago was possible but sailing to other lands was not. This policy lasted two hundred and twenty years until an American fleet led by Commodore Matthew Perry famously "invited" the Japanese to open their nation or it would be opened for them.

This was a bit off course, but I used to read Japanese history and I always thought the pre-shogunate era is pretty fascinating. Fun stuff on a Sunday.

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