A museum about persecuted Japanese Christians opened on April 1, 2018 in a large Catholic church in Nagasaki. The Oura church, Japan’s oldest church, is also a candidate site for the UNESCO World Cultural Heritage list, reports Japan Times.

The museum showcases various items related to early Christians in the Asian nation, including panels explaining the different time periods in the religion’s history—its introduction, its prohibition, and its resurgence.

Japanese Christians practiced their faith in hiding as authorities persecuted and tortured believers from the 17th to the 19th century.

Christianity was brought to Japan by missionary Francis Xavier in 1549. The religion was thought to be extinct after the Tokugawa shogunate banned Christianity during most of the Edo Period which lasted for more than 250 years.

Japanese Christians practiced their faith in hiding as authorities persecuted and tortured believers from the 17th to the 19th century.

The most famous incident of Christian persecution in Japan happened to 26 Catholics in 1597. Now known as the Twenty-Six Martyrs, the Christians were forced to walk 497 miles to Nagasaki, home to many Christians. After the month-long walk, the six missionaries and 18 Japanese Christians were executed in front of the public.

The Meiji government overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate. The new emperor restored religious freedom and legalized Christianity in 1873.

In 1854, Catholic missionaries returned to Nagasaki after Japan ended its self-imposed isolation. It was the year the construction of Oura Church was completed. A group of hidden Christians in the region surfaced and told a French priest that they were secretly practicing their faith all those years.

The Meiji government overthrew the Tokugawa shogunate. The new emperor restored religious freedom and legalized Christianity in 1873.

Many tourists attended the opening day of the museum. They were surprised to learn about the history of Christianity in Japan.

“I thought Christianity had once been completely wiped out in Japan. I was surprised to learn that people in Nagasaki continued to uphold the faith,” said a 29-year-old woman from Tokyo.

Sources:
Japan Times
Visit Nagasaki