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Egami Village on Naru Island(Egami Church and its Surroundings)Egami Village on Naru Island(Egami Church and its Surroundings)

(Ⅳ)The transitional phase in the religious identity of Hidden Christians, leading to the transformation and the end of their tradition


Yuko This village was established by Hidden Christians who migrated to a valley near the seacoast, isolated from the pre-existing villages, and they later built a church after the ban on Christianity was lifted. The conventional church design was adapted to take the characteristic topography of the village into account.

In Egami Village, the Hidden Christians continued their faith while adapting to geographical conditions after their migration to a narrow valley during the ban on Christianity. The village includes Egami Church which was constructed after the lifting of the ban. The Hidden Christian migrants settled in a valley near the seacoast, some distance from the pre-existing villages. They earned their living by cultivating scarce farmland as well as by fishing, and they continued to practise their secret faith and to maintain their distinctive religious system. After the lifting of the ban, they rejoined the Catholic Church and constructed a wooden church in a location that was close to a spring and was protected from strong sea winds. This construction marked the end of Hidden Christians’ tradition in Egami. Traditional Japanese techniques were applied to deal with the humidity of the area and to maintain good ventilation. The Egami Church is representative of the series of churches built by the former Hidden Christians in the Nagasaki region, showing a combination of local architectural design styles as well as forms derived from the distinctive topography of Egami and the western architectural style typically used for conventional Catholic churches.

Naru Island is located in the central part of the Goto Islands and is characterised by its complex shoreline and steep ridges. Egami Village was established on a narrow strip of land in a valley facing the northwestern coast of the island. The Egami Church was built on a reclaimed area of flat land on the southern side of this small valley.

As some documents record the existence of Japanese Catholics on the island in the early 17th century, it is highly possible that Catholicism was introduced there between the late 16th and early 17th centuries.

After the nationwide imposition of the ban on Christianity in 1614, Japanese Catholics in the Goto domain were persecuted to such an extent, by the 18th century, that none of their communities seems to have remained anywhere throughout the Goto Islands.

Beginning in the late 18th to the 19th centuries, Hidden Christians migrated from Sotome to Naru Island in a step-by-step manner. They first moved to the uninhabited island of Kazura and then to Naru Island, where they settled in the villages of Nagahae, Tsubakihara, and Nankoshi. As for Egami Village, it is said that four households migrated from the eastern Matsuura and Nishisonogi areas of the Nagasaki region. Many of these places which the migrants settled were very small alluvial plains isolated from the pre-existing Buddhist villages. The Hidden Christians established their own villages, opened up rice paddies in the plains and built houses on the sloping terrain.

The Hidden Christian communities secretly continued to practise their faith by forming a distinctive religious system centred on their own religious leaders, while adapting to the topography of the small valley to which they had migrated. The genealogy of the migrants testifies to the fact that there were several Hidden Christian communities in Egami Village during the ban.

After the lifting of the ban in 1873, the Hidden Christians in Egami Village rejoined the Catholic Church and used the houses of their former religious leaders as temporary churches. While in the case of other villages several Hidden Christian communities were often merged into one new religious community once the villagers had rejoined the Catholic Church, in the case of Egami Village they did not merge and were maintained separately, as demonstrated by the existence of several temporary churches established at the same time. Each of the Christian communities in the village also founded separate graveyards.

The Egami Church was built in 1918 on a small strip of terraced land in the valley with funds gathered from fishing for kibinago herring. Its floor level is set high off the ground, taking into account the high humidity resulting from a nearby spring. It has distinctive designs and forms similar to those of ordinary houses in the village, such as ornamented vents in the soffits that help to ventilate the interior of the building. The church is a timber constructed building with painted timber siding on its external walls. The main part of the building has a pitched roof over the main nave with individual roofs over aisles, while the rear part has an additional shed roof attached to. Inside of this projected rear part is the altar. The internal space has three naves with three vertical elements: arcades, triforium-like decorative belts, and arches on the upper walls. The ceiling is rib-vaulted while king post trusses are applied to its roof structure. The Egami Church is the best example in terms of design and structure among the wooden church buildings constructed in the Nagasaki region from the 19th century onwards. Constructed in a small valley on this remote island seashore, in a setting characteristic of the area to which the Hidden Christians had migrated, the Egami Church reflected the desire of the local people to have their church design express the western architectural features typical of conventional Catholic churches, in combination with their traditional local architectural design and techniques. The Egami Church most clearly showcases the gradual transition of the Hidden Christians’ religious tradition in the Nagasaki region and how it eventually came to an end.

01_奈留島の江上集落
01_Egami Village on Naru Island
01_奈留島の江上集落
02_谷間に開けたわずかな平地に建つ江上天主堂_日暮雄一撮影
02_Egami Church standing on a narrow strip of land in a valley (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
02_谷間に開けたわずかな平地に建つ江上天主堂_日暮雄一撮影
03_江上天主堂_日暮雄一撮影
03_Egami Church (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
03_江上天主堂_日暮雄一撮影
04_江上天主堂の内観_日暮雄一撮影
04_Interior of Egami Church (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
04_江上天主堂の内観_日暮雄一撮影
05_江上天主堂裏の水路_池田勉撮影
05_Watercourse behind Egami Church (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
05_江上天主堂裏の水路_池田勉撮影
06_床を高く上げた様子_池田勉撮影
06_The floor level of Egami Church set high off the ground (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
06_床を高く上げた様子_池田勉撮影
07_軒裏の装飾を兼ねた通風口_池田勉撮影
07_Ornamented vents in the soffits (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
07_軒裏の装飾を兼ねた通風口_池田勉撮影

Basic information

Map
Designation title as cultural assetsLocationDesignation categoryYear of designation
Egami Church Naru-machi, Goto City, Nagasaki Prefecture Important Cultural Property designated by the national governmentFirstly in 2008 and additionally in 2012

Access

Egami Church(”Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region” Information Centre)

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