By 1597, Christianity in Japan was a relatively small but growing religion, with estimates of around 300,000 Catholics in the country. However this was met with various political and social complications, as the shogunate was worried about colonialism from Christian European powers and the increasing influence of Catholic priests.
By the late 16th century the Japanese government began persecuting Christians in Japan and banned the religion. The story of the 26 Martyrs, crucified in Nagasaki in 1597, began with the shipwreck of a Spanish ship, San Felipe, on the Japanese island of Shikoku on October 19, 1596.
The Japanese daimyo (local ruler) seized the treasures of the ship. In the ensuing fiasco, the captain of the ship suggested it was the policy of the Spanish empire to infiltrate countries with Christian missionaries before taking over. This exchange was reported to the Japanese shogun, Toyotomi Hideyoshi, who reacted with fury as it confirmed his suspicions that Christians were a fifth column in Japan.
Hideyoshi ordered missionaries in Japan to be executed. 26 Catholics – six Franciscan friars, seventeen Japanese Franciscan tertiaries, and three Japanese Jesuits – were taken from Kyoto to Nagasaki and executed on February 5, 1597.
Though Christianity remained an underground religion for many years in Japan, and there were other executions, the first 26 were revered in the Catholic Church. They were eventually canonized in 1862 by Pope Pius IX.
Location painted: Nagasaki, Japan
Source: Wikimedia Commons
- 1596-10-19 Spanish galleon San Felipe is shipwrecked in Urado on the Japanese island of Shikoku en route from Manila to Acapulco. Incident leads to the crucifixion of 26 Christians who become known as the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan.
- 1597-02-05 A group of early Japanese Christians, known as the 26 Martyrs, are killed by the new government of Japan for being seen as a threat to Japanese society