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Kyushu Travel Guide

UNESCO Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region

 

Hidden Christian site is registered on UNESCO’s World Heritage

 

Japanese Christianity has a long history of continuing faith while coexisting with Japanese

traditional religion Shinto and General society.

Japan’s unique practice of the Christian faith continued even during the ban on Christianity.

Hidden Christian Site in NagasakiShimabara , Hirado and Amakusa Regions bear unique

testimony to the tradition of people and their communities who secretly transmitted their faith in

Christianity while surviving in the midst of the conventional society and its religions during the

time of prohibition.

 


 

Nagasaki

 

Oura Cathedral  / UNESCO World Heritage

Basilica of Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan.

Built in 1865 under the supervision of the French priest Bernard Petitjean. It was designated as

a National Treasure in 1933 for its value as Japan’s oldest Gothic-style Cathedral.

Entrance gate of Oura

Cathedral

Japan’s oldest Gothic-style

Cathedral building

Statue of Mary, at entrance of

Cathedral, installed in 1867


 

Martyrdom of the 26 Saints of Japan     

On February 5, 1597, Paulo Miki and 25 others were crucified for their belief in God on order of
Toyotomi Hideyoshi. The martyrs including four Spaniards, one from Goa, India, one Mexican and 
20 Japanese demonstrated their spiritual unity despite differences in races, ages and professions.

Nishizaka hill, the site of

Martyrdom in 1597

The martyrs said that 

” All people, bless God ! ”  

The 26 Japanese martyrs have 

been canonized in 1862


 

 Sotome area Hidden Christian Site  / UNESCO World Heritage 

When he discovered the underground Christians, Petitjean realized that there were many other

Christians hiding in the Sotome region.  He appointed de Rotz as the parish priest of the Shitsu

and Kurosaki districts.        

  Shitsu Church

  Former Shitsu Aid Centre

  The Statue of Mary


 

Urakami Cathedral

Originally constructed in 1895 as a brick Romanesque building, after a long-standing ban on

Christianity was lifted. When completed in 1914, it was the largest Catholic church in East Asia.

The atomic bomb dropped on August 9, 1945 explored in Urakami, only 500m from the cathedral,

which was completely destroyed. What remained of the cathedral is now on display in the 

Atomic Bomb Museum.

A replacement the Cathedral

was built in 1959

Ruins of destroyed Urakami

Cathedral are displayed

Ruins of destroyed Cathedral,

displayed nearby Ground Zero


 

Shimabara & Unzen  / Nagasaki-prefecture

 

Harajo Castle Ruins  / UNESCO World Heritage

The Battle field of Shimabara Rebellion which was a peasant uprising agaist bakufu’s persecution

of Christians under the leadership of Amakusa Shiro in 1637.  Christian farmers rose in a riot due

to their grievance about the oppression by Matsukura Shigemasa. The Shogunate regarded this

riot as Christian rebellion and sent its punitive force, therefore locked themselves in the castle and

with their leader Amakusa Shiro Tokisada fought against the Shogunate. On February 27, 1638,

he died in battle.The following day, the castle fell. 37,000 Christians including women and children

died a violent death.

Entrance to Harajo Castle

Ruins

Battle field of Shimabara

Rebellion

The Statue of Amakusa Shiro

 


 

Unzen jigoku

Jigoku, means Hell, is the number one attraction of Unzen with a peculiar smell of sulfur emitted

from the springs, and with white smoke rising from the ground over a wide area.

Unfortunately, this was once put into reality nearly 350 years ago during the time of religious

persecution in Japan.  30 Japanese Christians, failing to renounce their faith met  their death

here in the scalding spring of Jigoku.

Smoke rising from the ground

over a wide area

Martyrdom site of Christians

 

The Cross written the name of

six martyrs


 

Hirado / Nagasaki-prefecture

Christianity in Hirado

When the religion was banned in the early Edo Period, and the Christians were forced to give up their

religion, a few believers, known as the “Hidden Christians”, continued to practice their religion in secret

for over two centuries. Some did so in the remote villages of Hirado Island.

In the late 1800s, the ban on Christianity was lifted, and many of the Hidden Christians rejoined the

Catholic Church and built new churches with the assistance of foreign priests. A few also refrained from

rejoining because their religious practices evolved quite a bit over the centuries to a degree where they

were not compatible with Catholicism anymore.

 

Nakae no Shima  / UNESCO World Heritage

Located two kilometers off the coast of Hirado Island, Nakae no Shima is a small, uninhabited island

where religious leaders were executed during the persecution of Christians. The island is considered

sacred, and water collected there is used for baptism.


 

Kasuga Village / UNESCO World Heritage

This idyllic, remote village was refuge to a small community of Hidden Christians who practiced here

for centuries, far from the prying eyes of the government. After the ban on Christianity was lifted, the

local villagers decided to continue practicing their own unique brand of the religion rather than rejoin

the Catholic Church. As a result, churches were not erected in the village, and the religion remains

outwardly invisible.


 

Tabira Church

The church was designed by Tetsukawa Yosuke, a famous architect of various churches in

Nagasaki-prefecture, and built between December 1915 and October 1917. It is one of the latest

brick churches in the prefecture of Nagasaki. Tetsukawa Yosuke has called this one of his best works.


 

Amakusa   / Kumamoto-prefecture 

Hidden Christian of Amakusa

Christianity was first brought to Japan in 1549 by a Jesuit priest named Francis Xavier when trading

opened in Kagoshima. Not long after, it spread to neighboring areas such as Nagasaki and Amakusa.

In 1614, the Tokugawa regime felt threatened by the growth of Christianity out of their fear of

colonialism. Persecutions began and the eradication of Christianity started. Missionaries and priests

alike were killed, while those who practiced Christianity were given an option to renounce their faith or

face death. Some chose to convert to Shintoism and Buddhism in order to hide their Christian faith.

Fed up with famine and cruel treatment, peasants from Amakusa organized a rebellion to fight against

the regime. This resulted in the Shimbara Rebellion, which is considered as one of the largest revolts

during the Edo period.

 


 

Oe Cathedral 

The oldest Catholic Church in Amakusa and was one of the first churches built right after the ban

on Christianity was lifted. The and Romanesque-style architecture and the chalky white structure

was rebuilt in 1933 by a French missionary priest named Father Garnier using his own money and

contributions from local Christians living in the area.


 

Sakitsu Village  / UNESCO World Heritage

A Gothic-looking church is located on a cove of a fishing village. In 1934, a French priest Augustin

Halbout MEP purchased the premises of the former village headman and built a wooden and

concrete finished church, with Tetsukawa Yosuke’s design and construction. He placed the altar

at the very site where fumie or a test to ensure non-allegiance to Christianity had been conducted.


 

Amakusa Shiro Memorial Hall

The theme Museum shows History of Christianity in Amakusa and Shimabara Rebellion

which was a peasant uprising agaist bakufu’s persecution of Christians under the leadership

of Amakusa Shiro in 1637.


 

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