Please contact us before you visit the churches nominated for UNESCO World Heritage status.
* You can visit Oura Cathedral without prior notice.
■Reference number for your prior notice
As the churches are the places for prayer, please observe visiting manners and feel the solemn atmosphere quietly.
In some cases we cannot accept visitation to the churches due to religious events (Mass, funerals, etc.) or a too large number of visitors. To avoid such situation, we ask you to make a prior notice for your visit.
For World Heritage Journey to the Heart of Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki
In January 2004, the “Group of Churches and Christian Sites in Nagasaki”, which consists of churches and related facilities built in the late 19th and early 20th century, was added to the world heritage tentative list. The worth of these historical monuments and cultural properties is going to be recognized on a global level as proof of the dramatic history of Japanese Christianity. Catholic propagation in Japan underwent “prosperity and oppression,” and “incubation and revival.”
The underground Christians were discovered in 1865, but it was not until 1873, when the government’s severe prohibition was abolished, that Christian belief finally gained official acquiescence. After that, churches were built, one after another, even at very remote areas in Nagasaki. These Christian sites remain as a symbol of freedom of faith and a joyful testimony to the end of oppression. Many of the churches are located in once secluded areas where Christians secretly settled, avoiding cruel persecution and keeping their faith in God. The once desolate locations show how the people devoted their meager resources and made tremendous efforts, in spite of their extreme poverty and desperate situation. “The proof of faith” can be seen here.
The style of these churches has earned a reputation as a rarity in the architectural world, because it combines different techniques, both Japanese and Western. The churches were built with traditional tools, materials and skills by Japanese carpenters such as Yosuke Tetsukawa, but they were based on Western concepts introduced by European missionaries.
The Christian related historic spots and assets are called”pilgrimage sites,” and tours to these churches and the sites of martyrdom have attracted people’s attention in recent years. Pilgrimage means not only visiting historic churches and sites but also taking a “journey to the heart,” where you can think about the life of the people and the sacrifices they made to maintain their faith. It is also an opportunity to rethink one’s own life-journey.
We hope this small publication will help to promote interest in the pilgrimage tours in Nagasaki Prefecture and to enrich understanding regarding the value of a unique historical and cultural heritage.
During the Age of Exploration from the mid-fifteenth to the mid-seventeenth century, Portugal gained enormous profits in trade with Southeast Asia and orchestrated further projects. In 1557, the Portuguese succeeded in winning the port of Macau from the Ming dynasty of China and, using this as a foothold, expanded its trade network to other parts of East Asia.
The Society of Jesus (Jesuits) was intimately involved in Portugal's East Asian foray. At that time, the reformations advocated by Martin Luther were causing a storm throughout European countries. To revamp the Catholic Church, the Spanish priests Ignatius de Loyola and Francis Xavier founded a new religious order called the Society of Jesus and looked to East Asia as a new mission.
In Malacca, Xavier encountered a Japanese man and learned of the island country on the far eastern edge of Asia. In 1549 he reached Kagoshima, where he made mostly unsuccessful attempts to conduct mission work. In August the next year, he boarded a Portuguese ship and traveled to Hirado, which was thriving as an international trade port. Lord Matsura Takanobu granted him permission to conduct missionary work there, on the condition that the local trade with Portugal would be maintained and promoted. This event marked the introduction of Christianity to what is now Nagasaki Prefecture. Xavier stayed in Hirado for about a month, and his mission work was quite fruitful. It is said that, despite the short period, he won as many as one hundred converts.
Left side of a folding screen showing the arrival of Europeans
（Courtesy of Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture）Lord Matsura welcomed the Portuguese ships but was not very cooperative regarding Xavier's missionary work. The lord's only intention was to make profits from the lucrative foreign trade. Greatly disappointed by his attitude, the Portuguese crews and missionaries decided to change their trade base to Yokoseura (now part of Saikai City). This was among the lands ruled by Omura Sumitada, who accepted Christianity in a favorable way.
In 1562, Yokoseura, part of the Omura domain, was opened as a harbor for trade with Portuguese ships. Omura Sumitada underwent baptism together with 26 of his vassals and became the first Christian daimyo in Japan. Although Yokoseura prospered as a trade port, anti-Sumitada groups were plotting a coup in response to the Christian daimyo's decision to destroy Shinto shrines and Buddhist temples in his territory. About two years after the opening of the port, Goto Takaakira, Sumitada's brother-in-law and ruler of the Tsukazaki domain (now part of Takeo City, Saga Prefecture), carried out a fire attack. All the facilities of Yokoseura harbor burned to ashes, and the once prosperous trade foothold was lost, never to be recovered.
The trade base was moved to the port of Fukuda (now part of Nagasaki City) in the Omura domain and then to Kuchinotsu (now part of Minami-Shimabara City) in the Arima domain governed by Sumitada's elder brother, Yoshisada. Meanwhile, a few missionaries visited the village of Nagasaki governed by Nagasaki Jinzaemon, who had been baptized along with his lord, Sumitada. In 1569, he donated a small temple near his residence for a Catholic facility called Todos os Santos (Church of All Saints).
The following year (1570), Nagasaki was designated as a base for foreign rade and missionary work. The Jesuits and Omura Sumitada signed an agreement to open the port for trade. The next year a Portuguese ship sailed into Nagasaki Harbor for the first time. After that, Nagasaki welcomed many Portuguese ships and developed as a foreign trade center. The former tiny fishing village expanded into a lively business town with a population of as many as sixty thousand. Another church was constructed on the tip of the cape where a landing quay had been established, and soon other churches sprang up throughout the town. It is said that Sumitada ordered almost all of his people to convert to Christianity. Eventually Nagasaki grew into a great Christian city.
The Nagasaki Christians, however, were facing a time of tumult and tribulation at the end of the Warring States Period, when daimyos all over Japan were at odds with one another. In the Hizen region (now Nagasaki and Saga Prefectures), many lords and domains were developing a highly critical attitude toward Nagasakis prosperity as a trade port. Eventually, Lord Omura came under frequent attack.
Ceramic plate placed in Yokose Bay Park, depicting
the baptism Omura Sumitada（Saikai City）Particularly Ryuzoji Takanobu, a daimyo in the neighboring Saga region, began to increase the bluster of attacks. In 1584Omura had given jurisdiction over Nagasaki and the nearby village of Mogi, both strategically important territories, to the Society of Jesus as a protective measure. Urakami, another village adjacent to Nagasaki, was an exclave of the Arima family, and was also to be deeply involved in the history of Christianity in Japan. In 1584, in a battle on the Shimabara Peninsula, the allied troops of the Arima and Shimazu (from Kagoshima) domains succeeded in killing Takanobu and finally driving the forces of the Ryuzoji domain back to Saga, with the help of the Jesuits. As a token of gratitude for the victory, the Arima family dedicated the village of Urakami to the Society of Jesus.
In 1587, Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s plan to win suppression over Kyushu thwarted the attempts of the Shimazu domain to expand its sphere of rule in place of the Ryuzoji family. The powerful enemies of the Omura domain had been vanquished, and the threats to its territory also seemed to have subsided. However, Hideyoshi concluded that Christiani ty posed an obstacle to the completion of his control over all of Japan. In the same year, he issued a five-article order for the expulsion of all priests (bateren) from the country, annulled J esuit jurisdiction over Nagasaki, Mogi and Urakami, and placed these territories under direct control of the Toyotomi regime.
A decade later, Hideyoshi ordered the detainment of Christi ans on the grounds of verbal abuse uttered by a sailor aboard the Spanish ship San Felipe, which h ad foundered off the coast of Kochi. As a result, six European missionaries and eighteen Japanese Ch ristians were arrested in Kyoto and Osaka. After being dragged around the two cities with their ears cut off, they were forced to embark on the 800 km-long journey to Nagasaki, much of it spent trudging barefoot from town to town. Two persons joined the party along the way, and the twenty-six were executed on the Hill of Nishizaka as a warning to the people of Nagasaki, where many Christians continued to live and practice the banned religion.
Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s Bateren (Padre) Ban Prescript
(courtesy of Matsura Museum of Historical Records)Much to the chagrin of the persecutors, the sight of the martyrs’ sincerity made a great contribution to the expansion of the Christian population there , because Christians who had been rejected and expelled from various communities throughout the c ountry drifted into Urakami and Nagasaki in search of a refuge where they could live in peace. In spite of the Bateren Expulsion Order, Hideyoshi’s top priority was to earn profits; a fact that helped Nagasaki to prosper by advancing the trade with the Portuguese. The commercial exchange, therefore, enlarged the sphere of Christian influence, although the believers had to be always cautious to avoid watchful eyes. Even when the first Anti-Christian Edict was issued in 1612, Nagasaki continued to be the central stage of Christian missions. The small church on the tip of the cape grew into a cat hedral, and the various religious orders built new churches with the help of their followers. The entire city exuded the atmosphere of Christianity, from educational institutions and seminaries to printing houses publishing catechisms, welfare services guided by the motto “Love your neighbor as you love yourself,” and various other Catholic organizations dotting the streets and back quarters.
The Tokugawa Shogunate took over control of all of Japan after the death of Toyotomi Hideyoshi and, in January 1614, issued anti-Christian edicts on a national basis. Missionaries and Christian daimyos including Takayama Ukon were deported. All t he churches in Nagasaki had been destroyed by the year 1619. Missionaries who secretly re m ained or smuggled themselves back into the country, as well as those who helped them with their comings and goings, were arrested and tortured. Those who refused to recant faced a gruesome death at Nishizaka and other execution sites.
In 1636, the Shogunate ordered the construction of an artificial island in Nagasaki Harbor for the internment of all Portuguese residents, a last-ditch effort to m aintain the lucrative foreign trade while keeping the hated religion at bay.
In the Shimabara and Amakusa regions, meanwhile, the peasan try was suffering from famines and high taxation. Their complaints escalated into a massive grievance and, finally in 1637, sparked an attack on a deputy administrator, which in turn triggered a large-scale insurrection, the so-called “Shimabara-Amakusa Rebellion.” The Tokugawa Shogunate viewed this as a Christian revolt and crushed it with overwhelming military force.
In the wake of this tragedy, the Shogunate decided to compl etely suppress Christianity, to expel the Portuguese, and to close Japan’s doors to foreign countries. The Portuguese presence in Japan came to an end after less than a century. At the tiny ar tificial island of Dejima, the Dutch East India Company was granted permission to live and trade on the strict condition that it refrain from any kind of religious activity. Thus began Japan’s period of national seclusion, which was to last for more than 200 years, during which time Nagasaki was the only port for foreign trade and only the Chinese and Dutch were allowed to live here.
Santa Maria in the Snow
（courtesy of Twenty-six Martyrs Museum）In 1644, the Japanese Jesuit Konishi Mancio, the last Catholic priest remaining in Japan, was martyred at Osaka. Near Omura in present-day Nagasaki Prefectu re, underground Christians were discovered in 1657, convincing the Tokugawa Shoguate to step up its suppression of Christianity and to take measures such as the designation of watchdogs, the comp ulsory registration of all Japanese citizens at Buddhist temples, and the enforcement of e-fumi (trampling on a Christian image). Even under these severe circumstances, in the regions of Urakami, Sotome, Ikitsu ki and Hirado, there were people who, pretending to be Buddhists, secretly maintained their faith and organized religious groups. Without any contact with priests, and merely with the help of fellow leaders, they handed down prayers (orasho), catechisms and Christian rituals such as mass and baptism from generation to generation. They endured through a harsh period of history when believing in God meant risking one’s life. Anyone who happened to be found out would immediately be put to death.
In the Sotome district on the Nishi Sonogi Peninsula, the underground Christians eked out a meager living by cultivating narrow patches of land on steep hillsides. Many decided to move, as though fleeing overseas, to the Goto Islands. The local lord of the Goto Islands had asked the lord of Omura to send farmers. In response to this request, 3,000 Christians volunteered at the risk of their lives and traveled over the wide expanse of the sea to new settlements, hoping that, in the remote islands, they might finally be free of the terrible perse cutions.
Restored picture of the original front view of Oura Catholic Church
（courtesy of Oura Catholic Church）Japanese Christians observed their faith in hiding, an American squadron led by Commodore Matthew Perry arrived at Uraga near Edo in 1853 and broke open t he doors of Ja pan’s national isolation policy. The Tokugawa Shogunate concluded a Treaty of Peace and Amity with the United States, Britain, Russia and the Netherlands, and in 1858 signed a Treaty of Amity and Commerce with France as well as the four nations mentioned above. In February of the same year, the Nagasaki magistrate declared the cancellation of ‘e-fumi’, a test to ensure that a person is a non-Christian by forcing that person to tread on a tablet bearing a religious image of Jesus, Mary or some other Christian figure.
At last the port of Nagasaki was opened. For the first time since the issue of the Anti-Christian Edicts, Western missionaries (firstl y Protestant) arrived here in Nagasaki in 1858. In 1863, a Catholic church was constructed in the foreign settlement by priests from the Socie te des Mission Etrangeres de Paris (Paris Foreign Missions Society), who had started mission work in Edo (now Tokyo) just after the conclusion of the treaty in 1858. The people of Nagasaki called this church the furansudera meaning “French temple.” Many onlookers rushed there to see the Western ways of construction. A signboard was posted in front with the characters 天主堂 (church) written on it; part of the French priests’ efforts to summon Japanese Christians from hiding. The missionaries’ prayers were fulfilled.
Underground Christians from Urakami Village presented themselves at Oura Catholic Church. It was February 1865, soon after the christening of the new church, when more than a dozen local people arrived there hoping to see a statue of Mother Mary. They met Fr. Petitjean and confessed that they were Christians from the village of Urakami. This remarkable encounter went down in history as “The Discovery of the Underground Christians” and marked the beginning of the revival of Christianity in Japan.
However, Christianity was still strictly banned. In response to the discovery of the underground Christians, the Meiji Government, which had succeeded the Shogunate, arrested and banished almost all the villagers of Urakami. This tragic incident is now called “Urakami Yoban Kuzure” meaning the “Fourth Urakami Persecution” or the “Fourth Collapse of the Underground Christian Communities.” In Goto, Sotome and other areas as well, hidden Christians were found out and persecuted. As a matter of course, Japan’s treatment of Christians became the focus of global criticism, leaving the new Meiji Government little choice but to grant tacit permission to Christianity. Finally, in 1873, the government abolished the i nhumane law of oppression and brought the curtain down on the 250 year-long history of anti-C hristian policy.
Finally permitted to practice their faith openly, the former underground Christians were overjoyed. First of all, they thought about building churches of their own. No matter how inconvenient, they wanted to establish these churches in the settlements where their ancestors had hidden themselves and handed down the faith from generation to generation.
The leadership of the Catholic priests encouraged a spirit of sincere dedication and extraordinary cooperation. All the faithful donated funds for the church-building projects, squeezing as much money as they could from their extreme poverty. Young and old, male and female, they were willing to work together at tasks such as carrying stones and bricks from boats on shore up to the hilly construction sites . The establishment of their own churches was a manifestation of their faith, the realization of a wish that the long-persecuted people had been nurturing for centuries under harsh circumstances.
The area of Nagasaki Prefecture accounts for only 1% of the total area of Japan, but the prefecture is the site of s ome 130 churches, or more than 10 % of the total number of Catholic churches in Japan. These churches are monuments erected by people who maintained a life of faith and devotion for many generations despite unimaginable hardships. The walking pilgrimage follows the trail of history and provides proof at every turn of the miraculous survival of a religious tradition over a period of 450 years.
The relief to commemorate the 100th anniversary of the Discovery of the Underground Christians
（courtesy of Oura Catholic Church）
The statue of Mary that the underground Christians came to see from Urakami
（courtesy of Oura Catholic Church）