Urakami Cathedral

Urakami Cathedral (St. Mary's Cathedral), Nagasaki
 
 
 
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We left the Peace Park, following the signs for the Urakami Cathedral. Standing across the valley, a simple building with clean lines and modest dignity, off we went.
 
 
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As we walked in to the A-Bomb Museum we stood to take in the dramatic piece in front of us. The Wall of Urakami Cathedral after the Atomic Bombing (reproduction): One of the largest Catholic churches in East Asia at the time, Urakami Cathedral was located only some 500 meters northeast of the hypocenter and suffered almost complete destruction by the atomic bomb.
 
 
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This is a reproduction of part of the wall that remained standing on the southern side of the ruins (indicated by arrows in the photograph). The statues were blackened by the heat rays and fire, and part of the stone pillars were pushed out of alignment. The red arrow in the photograph indicates the part of the wall reproduced here, while the black arrow indicates the part relocated to Peace Park (near the Hypocenter Monolith) and still standing today.
 
 
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In 1867, the Catholics of Urakami who had returned after having been banished from the city (they had been persecuted from 1587 to 1873), purchased the piece of land where the residence of the former representative of Nagasaki village stood and in 1880 built a temporary church there. In 1895, the parish priest, Father Theodore Fraineu, started construction work on the red brick Romanesque cathedral. A consecration ceremony was held in 1914, and later in 1925 the belfry-towers were finally completed. At that time the cathedral was said to be the largest in Asia.
 
 
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Pictures we took of the cathedral in the A-Bomb Museum.
 
 
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At the bottom of the slope leading up to the cathedral, a steel information board.
 
 
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A path to the left took us to the fallen bell tower (weighing 50 tons) and it’s information board.
 
 
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Below the cathedral there is a little yard filled with original bomb-damaged statues.
 
 
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Urakami Cathedral. Rebuilt in 1959 after a debate between the parishioners and the city government, who originally wanted to preserve the ruins. Renovated for the visit of Pope John Paul II.
 
 
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We settled in a pew. Looking toward the altar and back to the organ loft.
 
 
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I bimbled around the outside while Bear found out which way we needed to head to find the one-legged torii.
 
 
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The Torture Stone
 
Saint Francis Xavier brought Christianity to Japan in 1549. The ruler of Japan at the time accepted it and many Japanese people became Christians. However, in the years that followed, two rulers, Hideyoshi Toyotomi, 1536-1598, and Leyasu Tokugawa, 1542-1616, both feared the rapid increase in Christian worshippers would harm their political policies. Therefore they each officially banned Christianity from Japan which began centuries of brutilization and religious persecution. Christians could not confess their religious beliefs in public and had to hand down their faith to their children secretly for about 300 years.
Japan’s long policy of isolation from foreign influences included a ban on overseas travel, as well as limitations in trade with China and The Netherlands. However when the American admiral, Perry, made a sudden visit to Japan with his fleet in the 19th century, it paved the way for change. Soon after his visit, Japan opened its borders, the old government collapsed and a new Japanese government was established. However, the official policy to ban Christianity was still held firmly in place.
In 1865, some Catholics in the Urakami area visited a missionary, Priest Petitjean, in Urakami Cathedral. This cathedral is known as Japan’s 26 Martyrs’ Memorial Church (own blog). It had been newly built in Oura, an area in Nagasaki where many foreigners resided. The Catholics fearlessly confessed to the priest that not only they but all of the villagers of Urakami were in fact Christians. “We have the same faith as you do”, they bravely declared, despite the continuing ban on Christianity.
However, this led to the “Urakami Yonban Kozure,” the exile of all Urakami Catholics, which was the last persecution against Christians in Japan.
From 1868, the government systematically seized 3,460 of the Urakami villagers and banished them to the far corners of Japan: north to south, Toyama Prefecture to Kagoshima Prefecture. In addition, the government continued to admonish and to brutally torture the Christians to force them to change their faith.
One example was the large stepping stone in the courtyard of Iwakuni Premise prison in Hagi, Yamaguchi Prefecture. This stone was called the “Torture Stone.” Christians exiled in Hagi were forced to sit on the stone as punishment. The torture was indescribably severe. A 22-year-old woman, Tsuru, was one such victim. She was stripped to the waist on a bleak winter’s day and compelled to sit on her heels on the stone for 18 cruel days. After a week had passed, she was buried in the heavy snow and finally lost consciousness. Still she refused to repent for her belief in the Christian faith.
In February, 1873, the government abolished the Christianity Prohibition Policy, which had lasted for about 262 years. This decision was influenced by Western consensus to oppose depriving freedom of conscience and faith. In the spring of 1873, Tsuru returned to Urakami with her brave fellow Christians. With deep sorrow they recalled other associates who were killed for their belief and now remained sleeping in Hagi. Later on, Tsuru joined the Cross Society, which was established by Maki Iwanaga, also an exile from the “Urakami Yonban Kozure” . Iwanaga was sent to Tsuru Island in Okayama Prefecture and triumphantly returned to Nagasaki after her hardship. Tsuru spent the rest of her life raising and educating orphans, as well as working in Taino-ura in Goto and Kono-ura in Sotome. In December 1925, she finished 78 years of religious service in the Cross Society in Urakami, Nagasaki.
This stone is a constant reminder to respect our ancestors who unflinchingly held true to their faith, despite horrific torture and a continuous risk to their lives. It is an ongoing inspiration for us all to continue holding the beliefs we deeply value and to keep the faith always.
 
 
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We left the cathedral and its relics to go in search of the one-legged torii.
 
 

 

 

ALL IN ALL POIGNANTLY BEAUTIFUL IN ITS SIMPLICITY

                     VERY MOVING INDEED