Today is the Feast Day of Sts. Paul Miki and His Companions, Martyrs
Saints Paul Miki and his Companions, Martyrs
St Paul Miki (1564/6 - 1597)
He was born in Japan between 1564 and 1566. He joined the Society of Jesus and preached the gospel to the Japanese people with great success. When a persecution of the Catholics arose he was arrested together with twenty-five others. Mocked and tortured, they were eventually taken to Nagasaki on 5 February 1597, bound to crosses and speared.
SS. Gonsalo Garcia, Peter Baptista and Companions (- 1597)
Gonsalo Garcia was born in Bassein, near Bombay (Vasai / Mumbai) in around 1557. He was educated by the Jesuits, who took him with them on a mission to Japan when he was 15. He spent eight years in Japan, quickly learning the language and becoming a popular catechist. He left the mission and set up as a trader. As his business expanded he found himself making frequent visits to Manila in the Philippines, where he got to know the Franciscans and eventually became a Franciscan lay brother. In 1592 he sailed, together with other Franciscans including Peter Baptista, on an embassy from the Spanish Governor to the Emperor of Japan. He worked as a preacher for four years and the simplicity of the Franciscans’ mission won them many Japanese friends and converts, including the shōgun Toyotomi Hideyoshi.
At length the enmity of the local Buddhist authorities combined with suspicion of Spanish political motives and the shōgun’s attitude changed. The Jesuit and Franciscan missionaries were arrested, mutilated, and on 5 February 1597 crucified at Nagasaki. They included five European Franciscan missionaries, one Mexican Franciscan missionary, three Japanese Jesuits and seventeen Japanese laymen including three young boys.
From an account of the martyrdom of Saint Paul Miki and his companions, by a contemporary writer
You shall be my witnesses
The crosses were set in place. Father Pasio and Father Rodriguez took turns encouraging the victims. Their steadfast behavior was wonderful to see. The Father Bursar stood motionless, his eyes turned heavenward. Brother Martin gave thanks to God’s goodness by singing psalms. Again and again he repeated: “Into your hands, Lord, I entrust my life.” Brother Francis Branco also thanked God in a loud voice. Brother Gonsalvo in a very loud voice kept saying the Our Father and Hail Mary.
Our brother, Paul Miki, saw himself standing now in the noblest pulpit he had ever filled. To his “congregation” he began by proclaiming himself a Japanese and a Jesuit. He was dying for the Gospel he preached. He gave thanks to God for this wonderful blessing and he ended his “sermon” with these words: “As I come to this supreme moment of my life, I am sure none of you would suppose I want to deceive you. And so I tell you plainly: there is no way to be saved except the Christian way. My religion teaches me to pardon my enemies and all who have offended me. I do gladly pardon the Emperor and all who have sought my death. I beg them to seek baptism and be Christians themselves.”
Then he looked at his comrades and began to encourage them in their final struggle. Joy glowed in all their faces, and in Louis’ most of all. When a Christian in the crowd cried out to him that he would soon be in heaven, his hands, his whole body strained upward with such joy that every eye was fixed on him.
Anthony, hanging at Louis’ side, looked towards heaven and called upon the holy names – “Jesus, Mary!” He began to sing a psalm: “Praise the Lord, you children!” (He learned it in catechism class in Nagasaki. They take care there to teach the children some psalms to help them learn their catechism).
Others kept repeating “Jesus, Mary!” Their faces were serene. Some of them even took to urging the people standing by to live worthy Christian lives. In these and other ways they showed their readiness to die.
Then, according to Japanese custom, the four executioners began to unsheathe their spears. At this dreadful sight, all the Christians cried out, “Jesus, Mary!” And the storm of anguished weeping then rose to batter the very skies. The executioners killed them one by one. One thrust of the spear, then a second blow. It was over in a very short time.
Let us pray.
God our Father, source of strength for all your saints, you led Paul Miki and his companions through the suffering of the cross to the joy of eternal life.
May their prayers give us the courage to be loyal until death in professing our faith. We ask this through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, God, for ever and ever.
Description of the Painting
On 5 February in 1597, St. Paul Miki (1564-1597), a Jesuit scholastic, and 25 others were martyred in Nagasaki. This painting shows the Jesuit Martyrs of Japan who were tortured and executed at Nagasaki in that century. After 1614, many Japanese Christians fled to Macau and Manila. It was painted by an anonymous Japanese painter in circa 1635. The painting is preserved in the Chiesa del Gesù, Rome, Italy. This painting is relatively large (110 x 220 cm). It was originally a watercolor painted on paper. Only later was it repainted in oil, attached to a canvas and framed, such as it is now to be found today (D’Orazio, 2008). Produced in an unquestionably kirishitan style, the painting depicts 44 Jesuits who were martyred in different ways in Japan, beginning with the first persecution. The painting has three separate levels. The top level represents glory: amid the clouds, and flanked by two angels, rise the figures of Francis Xavier, St Paul Miki and two companion Jesuits crucified in Nagasaki in 1597. They're recognized as martyrs by Rome, Paulo Miki, John Soan de Goto and James Kisai. The second level (middle) shows Christians burned at the stake, decapitated and those who lived in secrecy (hut) or exiled (galleon, abandoned on a shore). The third level (bottom) shows people subjected to the "tormento das covas" (being suspended upside down over a pit). They were tortured by hanging them over a pit filled with excrement. They would cut slits around their temples to release the pressure so they would die slower. The aim was to break the resolve of those who refused to renounce their faith.