Today is also the original feast day of St. Kichi Francis Gaius and the rest of the 26 Martyrs of Nagasaki (aka St. Paul Miki and Companions). The martyrs were crucified on this day in 1597 after plenty of torture and abuse, but the feast was moved to the 6th to avoid it getting lost behind St. Agatha.
Hideyoshi, the warlord in control of Japan, captured a shipwrecked Spanish vessel and confiscated all the goods. When Western countries tried to negotiate for the return of the goods and made threats, Hideyoshi decided that the thing to do was to break his treaty with Spain, outlaw Christianity again, capture the Franciscan missionaries from Portugal and Spain, and execute them.
St. Kichi Francis Gaius was a common soldier — not a samurai but a foot soldier (ashigaru). He was a third order lay Franciscan, and happened to be visiting the Franciscan mission when soldiers came to arrest them. Kishi insisted on being arrested also, because he was a Franciscan and a Christian, too. He shared their fate, having their left ears cut off, being paraded around Osaka and the provinces in an oxcart, and then being forced to walk all the way to Nagasaki in winter, starting on January 10th. All the martyrs were refused a request to allow them to go to Confession. (Although if you get through being martyred, that kinda takes care of that.)
As it ended up, many Japanese Christians joined the foreign missionaries, both by choice and for annoying the government. St. Kisai Diego mowed the grass at the Jesuit house in Osaka. St. Francisco of Nagasaki was a high class Japanese doctor who moved next to the Franciscans in order to start a free clinic, which became a hospital. St. Shiko Danki Tomas was a rascally medicine-seller, who reformed his life after conversion, and started a pharmacy next to the Kyoto clinic. St. Suzuki Pablo became the Kyoto hospital administrator.
St. Takeya Cosme was a swordsmith (or sword-polisher, see below). St. Kozaki Miguel was a bowyer and fletcher, and his son Tomas was an altarboy. St. Ibaraki Pablo and his twelve year old son St. Ibaraki Rudovigo were samurai. Pablo’s little brother, St. Karasumaru Leon, was a samurai turned Buddhist monk turned lay manager for the Franciscans. St. Sakakibara Joaquin helped build the Franciscan friary in Osaka and worked there as a cook. St. Ventura was raised pagan after his Christian parents died young, and then sent to a Buddhist temple. His heart was always restless until he learned that he’d been baptized as a baby, and left the temple to learn his true heritage of faith. St. Kinuya Juan wove silk fabric for a living, and was known for “weaving in prayers” for his customers by praying while he worked. St. Miki Pablo (St. Paul Miki) was one of the first Japanese members of the Jesuits, a gifted preacher and close to ordination as a priest. St. Matthias of Miyako wasn’t the Matthias that the soldiers wanted, but he gladly offered himself to fill up the line on their paperwork and save his namesake.
This was a more straightforward execution than some of the ones in later persecutions; they didn’t leave people on the crosses for a long time or try to drown them or burn them, although it was supposed to be a humiliating way to die that was reserved for desperate criminals and bandits. They were basically shackled to these crosses so they couldn’t evade getting stabbed, and set up high so that people could see them die. Four officials were then sent to stab each of them with a long lance (once for each official) to make sure they were dead.
St. Paul Miki told the crowd that they were being killed for preaching the truth of Jesus Christ, but that they forgave all the government officials. They smiled and sang on the crosses. More than 4000 Christians were present in the crowd, and the bravery of the people being crucified was obvious.
St. Felipe de Jesus de las Casas, a native of Mexico City, was on the ship that wrecked, trying to go home to Mexico to be ordained. He’d had an early vocation, left, partied, made lots of cash, then joined up again halfway around the world with a late vocation. He ended up being the first to die and became Mexico’s first official martyr. He then was made the patron saint of the home he left behind.
Martyrs of Nagasaki, pray for us!
UPDATE: Here’s an interesting article about St. Takeya Cosme’s swordmaking family. They were actually sword-polishers (yeah, specialization) and appraisers, one of the three families famous for such work. It suggests that Takeya’s brother Takeya Leon was the same Takeya Rian who wrote a famous book about swords, Shinkan Hiden Sho, and that several members of the family were also martyred for the faith.