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Oura CathedralOura Cathedral

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


Yuko The site of the ‘Discovery of Hidden Christians’, an encounter with returned Catholic missionaries that triggered the end of Hidden Christians’ hiding.

Oura Cathedral is one of the components that demonstrates what triggered the end of Hidden Christians’ hiding. Hidden Christians met the missionaries for the first time in two centuries (the ‘Discovery of Hidden Christians’). Hidden Christian leaders throughout the Nagasaki region visited the cathedral, and such contact with the missionaries brought about the transition and subsequent end of Hidden Christians’ hiding. In the transitional phase, Hidden Christian communities split into three groups: those who rejoined the Catholic Church, those who decided to continue their unique way of practising the faith that they had developed during the ban on Christianity, and those who converted to Buddhism or Shinto.

Oura Cathedral is located on a hill facing the Port of Nagasaki in the south of the Nagasaki region. Its precincts contain the parish house, the church building that was initially built for the foreigners within the Nagasaki Foreign Settlement, a seminary and a catechist school (both of which were established for missionary work after the lifting of the ban on Christianity).

Oura Cathedral stands within the former Foreign Settlement established in Oura after Japan opened its ports to overseas trade. In 1862, Father Furet of the Paris Foreign Missions Society selected the location to construct the church for use as the base of the Society’s mission in Nagasaki.

Within the precincts of the cathedral, a parish house was built first in 1863, then the church building itself was built in 1864. It had a Gothic-style exterior with three belfries. The floor plan had three naves, and its façade had a building plaque just like Buddhist temples, reading ‘Tenshudo’ (literally meaning ‘church’). It was dedicated to the 26 Catholics who were martyred in Nagasaki in the 16th century and canonised in 1862. The building faces in the direction of Nishizaka, their martyrdom site.

In 1865, soon after the dedication ceremony, a dozen Hidden Christians from Urakami Village in Nagasaki visited the church, and one of them approached Father Petitjean saying ‘We are of one heart with you’, and revealed their secret faith. News of this dramatic event, which came to be called the ‘Discovery of Hidden Christians’, immediately reached the Hidden Christian communities in the Nagasaki region, encouraging their leaders to visit the missionaries at the church as well.

Such contact with the missionaries brought about a transitional phase of the Hidden Christian communities and prompted various reactions among them. Those who decided to receive guidance from the missionaries revealed their faith in public, although the ban on Christianity was still in effect. As a result, the Tokugawa Shogunate arrested the Hidden Christians in Urakami in 1867, and the Meiji Government which continued the Shogunate’s policy of banning Christianity exiled more than 3,000 of them to twenty domains throughout Japan and tortured them in order to make them recant their faith. This incident is called ‘Urakami Yonban Kuzure’. On the Goto Islands, those Hidden Christians who revealed their faith in public were captured (Goto Kuzure), and on Hisaka Island, as many as 200 Hidden Christians were thrown in a jail cell roughly 19.8 square meters in area, killing many of them (the Royanosako Martyrdom). The missionaries of Oura Cathedral addressed the consulates of Western countries represented in Japan to help stop these persecutions. The Meiji Government lifted the ban in 1873 in response to increasing criticism from western countries, eventually putting an end to the suppression of Christianity in Japan.

Following the lifting of the ban, the Hidden Christian communities split into three groups: those who decided to receive guidance from the missionaries and join the Catholic Church as their ancestors did in the 16th century, those who decided to continue their unique way of practising the faith that they had developed for two and a half centuries, and those who converted to Buddhism or Shinto.

The missionaries of the church gave full catechistical instruction to the former Hidden Christians, placing great importance on the catechism and specific terms in Portuguese and Latin that had been introduced by the Catholic mission in the 16th century and that the religious communities of Hidden Christians had, hitherto, transmitted from generation to generation by themselves. The missionaries made coloured engravings and other materials for the mission as well. At the same time, they also reintegrated the distinctive ways of the Hidden Christians into the more conventional rituals and customs of Catholicism.

The church building underwent extension work to deal with an increasing number of Catholics attending church services after the lifting of the ban, and in 1879 the scale and the appearance of the building took on the form that is seen today. Within its precincts, the Latin Seminary and the Catechist School were established for the purpose of training Japanese clergy. The Latin Seminary was constructed in 1875, and the Japanese graduates were sent to the remaining Hidden Christian communities following the first graduation ceremony in 1879. The Catechist School was established around 1883 in order to train catechists to give catechistical instruction in the remaining Hidden Christian villages, in place of missionaries, so that it was easier to visit these villages scattered throughout such a large area. Many Japanese catechists graduated from the school, and until 1892 were sent to the Nagasaki region to carry out their missionary work. The Latin Seminary and the Catechist School provided the driving forces encouraging Hidden Christians to rejoin the Catholic Church during this transitional phase.

01_Oura Cathedral (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
02_旧長崎大司教館_日暮雄一撮影
02_Former House of the Archbishop (a picture taken by Higurashi Yuichi)
02_旧長崎大司教館_日暮雄一撮影
03_日本二十六聖人殉教地の方角を向く大浦天主堂
03_Oura Cathedral facing in the direction of Nishizaka where the Twenty-six Saints of Japan were martyred.
03_日本二十六聖人殉教地の方角を向く大浦天主堂
04_「信徒発見」を描いた挿画
04_Illustration of the ‘Discovery of Hidden Christians’ (A. Villion, Yamato Hijiri Chishionokakioki.)
04_「信徒発見」を描いた挿画
05_現在の大浦天主堂内観_池田勉撮影
05_Interior of Oura Cathedral at present (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
05_現在の大浦天主堂内観_池田勉撮影
06_旧羅典神学校_池田勉撮影
06_Former Latin Seminary (a picture taken by Ikeda Tsutomu)
06_旧羅典神学校_池田勉撮影
07_大浦天主堂におけるミサ(信徒発見150周年記念ミサ)_池田勉撮影
07_Mass held at Oura Cathedral to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the Discovery of Hidden Christians
07_大浦天主堂におけるミサ(信徒発見150周年記念ミサ)_池田勉撮影

Basic information

Map
Designation title as cultural assetsLocationDesignation categoryYear of designation
Oura CathedralMinamiyamate-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture National Treasure designated by the national government1933
Precincts of Oura CathedralMinamiyamate-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki PrefectureHistoric Site designated by the national government 2012
Former Latin SeminaryMinamiyamate-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki Prefecture Important Cultural Property designated by the national government1972
Minamiyamate Preservation District for Groups of Traditional BuildingsMinamiyamate-machi, Nagasaki City, Nagasaki PrefectureImportant Preservation District for Groups of Traditional Buildings selected by the national government 1991

Access

Oura Cathedral and its precinct(”Hidden Christian Sites in the Nagasaki Region” Information Centre)

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