Friday 8 June 2018

Holy Martyrs of Japan

Artwork Special Collection, AW24

Print of The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of God in Glory by Insho Domoto. The original is a large altar painting that hangs in the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in the Diocese of Osaka, Japan

Catholicism was first introduced to Japan in 1549. However, it was outlawed in 1612 following the martyrdom of many missionaries and Japanese converts as a response to the perceived military threat by European trade partners. Catholic missionaries did not return until the 19th century. Though the the Osaka Cathedral was built in 1963, the site was chosen for its link to two Samurais who converted to Christianity in the 16th century.

This print was given to the Archdiocese by the Toronto Japanese Catholic Community.

Today is the anniversary of the canonization of the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan who were crucified in Nagasaki in 1597.

In the beginning, missionary efforts in Japan were quite successful. Catholicism was introduced in 1549 by Jesuit priests from Spain, led by Francis Xavier (read our post about his relics here). The local feudal lords, military and imperial government allowed the Jesuits to establish Catholic missions in the hopes of curtailing the influence of Buddhist monks, as well as improving trade relations with Spain and Portugal. 

However, as the numbers of Catholics rose to 300,000 over the following decades, Japanese rulers became more wary of the threat of colonialism. Christianity was banned and the Jesuits were expelled, though these decrees were not particularly well enforced.

In 1596, a Spanish trade vessel was shipwrecked along the coast of Japan and looted by the local lord. It caused a huge political incident with implications that Spain had sent missionaries to Japan to infiltrate the society in anticipation of a military conquest. The Japanese response was the crucifixion of 26 Catholics: six Franciscan missionaries including four Spaniards, one Mexican (St. Philip of Jesus, the first North American to be canonized), and one Indian; three Japanese Jesuits, including the revered St. Paul Miki; and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young altar boys.

Without leadership, the Church in Japan disintegrated until Western missionaries returned in the 19th century.

The connection to the Archdiocese of Toronto is that our third bishop, Most Rev. John Lynch, travelled to Rome to attend the martyrs' canonization by Pope Pius IX on June 8, 1862. 

Archbishop Lynch fonds, LAA05.08

A page from Bishop Lynch's acta (a listing of activities carried out by the administration).

"1862. Left Toronto for the canonization of the Japanese martyrs appointed Rev. John Walsh and Rev. Father Soulerin administrators."

Archbishop Lynch fonds, LAA05.28

A page from Bishop Lynch's acta (a listing of activities carried out by the administration).

"1862...14th Sept. Lecture by Bp. Lynch on the canonization of the Japanese Martyrs"

Unfortunately there is no copy of this lecture in Bp. Lynch's papers. 

Archbishop Lynch fonds, L RC 44.11

A souvenir from the canonization ceremony: a copy of the address of the Bishops attending the canonization of the twenty-six martyrs of Japan and Michael de Sanctis. Bishop Lynch's name was misspelled in the list of attending bishops (right).

Archbishop Lynch fonds, L RC 44.11

"Disegno di una medaglia, che, a testimonio perenne della loro venerazione e riconoscenza i Romani devoti alla S. Sede intendono dedicare ai Vescovi convenuti dalle loro diocesi per assistere alla solenne canonizzazione dell 8 giugno 1862."

Card showing the design of the medal struck to commemorate the dedication to the Holy See of the Catholic Bishops, who came from their dioceses to attend the canonization of the Martyrs of Japan, June 8, 1862

Two years later, Bishop Lynch blessed a new mission church in Bradford, Ontario, dedicating it to the Twenty-Six Japanese Martyrs. In 1940, the mission was split from St. John Chrysostom, Newmarket, and erected as a separate parish, Holy Martyrs of Japan.

Parish Collection, Holy Martyrs of Japan Parish, Bradford, Ontario

Two years after attending the canonization, Bishop Lynch blessed a new mission church in Bradford, Ontario, dedicating it to the twenty-six Japanese martyrs. In 1940, the mission was raised to a parish. In 1957, Cardinal McGuigan blessed a new church building (above) - 100 years after Bradford was incorporated as a village and local Catholics bought the site for a church and cemetery. 

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