Almost fifty years after Francis Xavier had arrived in Japan as its first Christian missionary, the presence of several thousand baptized Christians in the land became a subject of suspicion to the ruler Hideyoshi, who soon began a period of persecution. Twenty-six men and women, religious and lay, were first mutilated and then crucified near Nagasaki in 1597. The most famous of the martyrs of Nagasaki was Paul Miki. After their martyrdom, their blood-stained clothes were kept and held in reverence by their fellow Christians. The period of persecution continued for another thirty-five years, many new witness-martyrs being added to their number.
- From Celebrating the Saints, Robert Atwell, SCM Press
O God our Father, source of strength to all your saints, you brought the holy martyrs of Japan through the suffering of the cross to the joys of eternal life; Grant that we, encouraged by their example, may hold fast the faith we profess, even to death itself; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
The propers for the commemoration of the Martyrs of Japan are published on the Lectionary Page website.
Readers wishing to learn more about the history of 16th and 17th century Japanese Christianity and the effects of the persecution even to the present day will find the novels of Shusaku Endo a challenging read, particularly The Samurai, with its story of the journey of a samurai and his companions from Japan to Mexico and thence to Spain and on to Rome in the late 16th century (based on an actual historical journey that also inspired the composition of the Mass for the Japanese Princes by Andrea Gabrieli for their visit to St Mark’s Basilica in Venice in 1585).