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Transformation in Practices and Discourses on Japanese Martyrs in Europe, Japan and Mexico

Panel Chair: Haruko Nawata Ward | Monday, August 24, 1:30-3 p.m. | Venue

This panel compares the practices and discourses on the early modern Japanese Christian martyrs along history in the texts from Europe, Japan and Mexico, written with diverse motivations and agendas. According to Pinto’s analysis, seventeenth-century European sources apply the Catholic traditional understanding of martyrdom while also revealing the Japanese perception on these martyrs. The beatification and canonization processes of Japanese martyrs over four centuries shows a gradual inclusivity in the profile of the martyrs and confirms the importance of the martyrs’ historical memory for the local Catholic community as our research demonstrates. Finally, the last paper examines the case of the Mexico-born Japanese martyr saint Felipe de Jesús and shows how his figure was first appropriated by the Mexican criollo community in the seventeenth century and by the conservative party in the nineteenth century, and how after declining in early twentieth century, his cult is now expanding to western Mexico.

Carla Tronu

Transformation in the discourse on the Japan martyrs from the seventeenth century to the present

The Japanese government banned Christianity in 1614 and persecuted foreign missionaries and Japanese Christians. Some of those who were executed have been recognized as martyrs through a long process, still on going, that raises questions on identity and historical memory. Initially, in the seventeenth century, the cause for and the discourse on the first martyrs of Japan, the so-called Twenty-six Martyrs of Japan, developed in the frame of the rivalry to preach in Asia between the Mendicant Orders under Spanish patronage and the Jesuits under Portuguese patronage, generating controversial literature. No further claims were made until the late nineteenth century, when secret Christian communities were disclosed and some returned to the Catholic Church. This prompted several causes for Japanese martyrs and beatifications followed in 1867, 1981, 1989, 2008 and 2011, generating a discourse gradually more inclusive and representative of the local Catholic communities in terms of age, gender, class, and region.

Reiko Kawata

Transformation in the worship of Saint Felipe de Jesus in Mexico from the seveteenth century to the present

Saint Felipe de Jesus was one of the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan who were crucified in Nagasaki on 5 February 1597 and beatified in 1627. He was a criollo, that is, a Spanish born in Mexico, where he was already treated and worshipped as a saint shortly after his beatification, although he would not be canonized until 1862. This paper traces the changes in the political discourse on the worship of Saint Felipe from the seventeenth century, when the criollos in colonial New Spain appropriated him as one of their identity symbols, through the nineteenth century, when Mexico gained Independence and the so-called conservatives in Mexico appropriated him as their symbol, up to the twentieth century, when his worship seems to have declined. My research reveals that today the cult of Saint Felipe is again spreading to new territories in western Mexico.

Wei Jiang

Levitation, invisibility and ninja: the transformation of the miracles of a Japanese martyr Fr. Thomas de San Augustin O.S.A. (1602-1638)

This paper is a case study on the hagiographical writings on the anti-Christian persecutions in both European and Japanese contexts during the seventeenth century. Fr. Thomas de San Agustin, O.S.A. (1602-1637) was an Augustinian priest of Japanese origin, who was executed in 1637 in Nagasaki and beatified by Pope Benedict XVI on 24 November 2008. A series of hagiographies in the Augustinian archives indicate that de San Agustin had practiced miracles of invisibility and levitation, a unique case among the Japanese martyrs. The contemporary Japanese sources in Omura show that de San Agustin, often named as “the Monk with a sword of golden hand-guard”, was a master of ninja-like skills including camouflage and flying. This paper examines the entangled literature on de San Agustin, which contributed to the formation of a Roman Catholic saint and a hero at the time of the Christian rebellion in Shimabara in 1637-1638.


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