Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan

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Martyrs of Japan
26 muchenykiv Yaponii 03..jpg
Died February 5, 1597, Nagasaki, Japan
Means of martyrdom Crucifixion
Venerated in Catholic Church, Anglican Communion, Lutheran Church
Beatified September 14, 1627, Rome, by Pope Urban VIII
Canonized June 8, 1862, Rome, by Pope Pius IX
Feast February 6 (Catholic Church)

The Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan (日本二十六聖人 Nihon Nijūroku Seijin?) were a group of Roman Catholics who were executed by crucifixion on February 5, 1597, at Nagasaki. Their martyrdom is especially significant in the history of Roman Catholicism in Japan.

A promising beginning to Catholic missions in Japan — perhaps as many as 300,000 Catholics by the end of the sixteenth century — met complications from competition between the missionary groups, political difficulty between Spain and Portugal, and factions within the government of Japan. Christianity was suppressed, and it was during this time that the 26 martyrs were executed. By 1630, Catholicism had been driven underground. Two-hundred and fifty years later, when Christian missionaries returned to Japan, they found a community of "hidden Catholics" that had survived underground.

Early Christianity in Japan

On August 15, 1549, St. Francis Xavier (later canonized by Gregory XV in 1622), Fr. Cosme de Torres, S.J. (a Jesuit priest), and Fr. John Fernandez arrived in Kagoshima, Japan, from Spain with hopes of bringing Catholicism to Japan. On September 29, St. Francis Xavier visited Shimazu Takahisa, the daimyo of Kagoshima, asking for permission to build the first Catholic mission in Japan. The daimyo agreed in hopes of creating a trade relationship with Europe.

The shogunate and the imperial government at first supported the Catholic mission and the missionaries, thinking that they would reduce the power of the Buddhist monks, and help trade with Spain and Portugal. However, the shogunate was also wary of colonialism, seeing that in the Philippines the Spanish had taken power after converting the population. The government increasingly saw Catholicism as a threat, and started persecuting Catholics. Christianity was banned and those Japanese who refused to abandon their faith were killed.


The Christian martyrs of Nagasaki. 16-17th-century Japanese painting.
Drawing remembering the 26 Catholic martyrs.

On February 5, 1597, twenty-six Catholics – four Spaniards, one Mexican, one Indian, all Franciscan missionaries, three Japanese Jesuits and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys, who were all members of the Third Order of St. Francis, were executed by crucifixion in Nagasaki on the orders of Hideyoshi Toyotomi.[1] These individuals were raised on crosses and then pierced through with spears.

Persecution continued sporadically, breaking out again in 1613 and 1630. On September 10, 1632, fifty-five Catholics were martyred in Nagasaki in what became known as the Great Genna Martyrdom. At this time Catholicism was officially outlawed. The Church remained without clergy and theological teaching disintegrated until the arrival of Western missionaries in the 19th century.

Drawn from the oral histories of Japanese Catholic communities, Shusaku Endo's acclaimed novel Silence provides detailed accounts of the persecution of Catholic communities and the suppression of the Church.


St. Francis Branco

While there were many more martyrs, the first 26 missionary and convert martyrs came to be especially revered, the most celebrated of whom was Paul Miki. The Martyrs of Japan were canonized by the Roman Catholic Church on June 8, 1862, by Pope Pius IX,[2] and are listed on the calendar as Sts. Paul Miki and his Companions, commemorated on February 6, since February 5, the date of their death, is the feast of St. Agatha. They were included in the General Roman Calendar for the first time in 1969. Previously, they were honoured locally, but no special Mass for them was included even in the Missae pro aliquibus locis (Masses for some places) section of the 1962 Roman Missal.[3] Some 21st-century publications based on it do have such a Mass under February 13.[4][5]

The Church of England also celebrates the Japanese martyrs liturgically on February 6. The Anglican Church in Japan (Nippon Sei Ko Kai), a member of the Anglican Communion, added them to its calendar in 1959 as an annual February 5 commemoration of all the martyrs of Japan. The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America added a commemoration on February 5 to their calendar.

The Church of the Holy Japanese Martyrs (Civitavecchia, Italy), is a Catholic church dedicated to the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki. It is decorated with artwork by Japanese artist Luke Hasegawa.

List of the 26 Martyrs of 1597

Statue of Philip of Jesus in the Basilica of Our Lady of Zapopan.
  • Saint Antonio Dainan (13 years old)
  • Saint Bonaventura of Miyako
  • Saint Cosme Takeya (38 years old)
  • Saint Francisco Branco (28 years old)
  • Saint Francisco of Nagasaki (46 years old)
  • Saint Francisco of Saint Michael (53 years old)
  • Saint Gabriel de Duisco (19 years old)
  • Saint Gaius Francis
  • Saint Gundisalvus (Gonsalvo) Garcia
  • Saint James Kisai (63 years old)
  • Saint Joaquim Saccachibara (40 years old)
  • Saint Juan Kisaka (40 years old)
  • Saint Juan Soan de Goto
  • Saint Leo Karasumaru (48 years old)
  • Saint Luis Ibaraki – Born in Owari (Nagoya). He was pressed by a samurai for apostasy, but declined it clearly. 12 years old, the youngest.
  • Saint Martin of the Ascension (30 years old)
  • Saint Mathias of Miyako
  • Saint Miguel Kozaki (46 years old)
  • Saint Paulo Ibaraki (54 years old)
  • Saint Paul Miki or Saint Paulo Miki (33 years old) – Born in Japan in 1562, he joined the Society of Jesus in 1580 and was the first Japanese member of any Catholic religious order. He died one year before his ordination to the Catholic priesthood. Miki's remaining ashes and bones are now located in Macau, China.
  • Saint Pablo Suzuki (49 years old)
  • Saint Pedro Bautista or Saint Peter Baptist (48 years old) – He was a Spanish Franciscan who had worked about ten years in the Philippines before coming to Japan. St. Peter was a companion of St. Paul Miki when Christianity was made illegal.[6]
  • Saint Pedro Sukejiroo
  • Saint Philip of Jesus (24 years old) - Born in Mexico in 1572 (at the time "New Spain"). Upon his martyrdom he became the first Mexican saint and the patron saint of Mexico City.
  • Saint Thomas Kozaki (14 years old)
  • Saint Thomas Xico (36 years old)

See also


  1. "Martyrs List". Twenty-Six Martyrs Museum. Retrieved 2010-01-10.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  2. Catholic Encyclopedia: Sts. Peter Baptist and Twenty-Five Companions
  3. In the 1962 typical edition of the Roman Missal, page [143], the text goes directly from the Mass of St. Francis de Sales (January 29) to that of St. Margaret of Cortona (February 22).
  4. The Daily Missal and Liturgical Manual. London: Baronius Press. 2008. pp. 1722–1723. ISBN 978-0-9545631-2-7.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  5. The Roman Catholic Daily Missal. Kansas City, Missouri: Angelus Press. 2004. pp. 1637–1638. ISBN 1-892331-29-2.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  6. Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). [ "Sts. Peter Baptist and Twenty-Five Companions" ] Check |ws link in chapter= value (help). Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>

External links