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  • 104 Voices from Christian NagasakiDocument of the Rosario Brotherhood of Nagasaki with the Signatures of Its Members (February 1622): An Analysis and Translation
  • Reinier H. Hesselink (bio)

In February 1622, a document was signed by 104 principal members of the Rosario brotherhood in the early modern city of Nagasaki 長崎.1 The two-meter scroll—eleven sheets of Japanese paper glued together—was taken to Europe to prove that the signatories and those whom they represented were committed to the Christian faith; today it rests in the Biblioteca Casanatense in Rome inside a box also carrying a similar statement signed by seventy-seven members of the Rosario brotherhood in Ōmura 大村, the domain neighboring Nagasaki.2 [End Page 237]

The Nagasaki document opens with a four-sheet-long Japanese testament presented as seven “articles,” reading from right to left, about the situation of Christians in the city in early 1622, followed by five more sheets filled with the signatures of eighty-three men and twenty-one women. The eleventh and tenth sheets, which read from left to right, provide a Latin translation together with a certification signed by the friars Diego Collado (1589?–1641) and Juan de Rueda (Juan de los Angeles Rueda, 1578–1624), both well-known Dominican missionaries active in Japan at the beginning of the seventeenth century.3

For Japanese men and women of the time to sign a document like this, even in secret, was an act that carried considerable risk. The Church and the propagation of Christianity had been proscribed since 1614, and since 1616 all aid to remaining missionaries automatically carried the death penalty. Even outside Japan on the high seas, Japanese, Chinese, Portuguese, and Spanish shipping was regularly subject to searches by Dutch and English competitors who could be expected to seize and then hand over such documents to the Tokugawa military government in return for trade advantages. Therefore, while there were any number of Paulos or Marias in Nagasaki, to identify oneself by the ward (machi 町) where one was living and include one’s personal seal in addition to one’s signature was an act of considerable bravery.

Although the document is one of the few surviving examples of its kind from Nagasaki, we can assume that many others were compiled by the missionaries of the different orders still active in the city.4 In terms of the country as a whole, roughly sixty testaments from 1617 and later—together containing hundreds of signatures by Japanese Christian lay leaders along with contemporary Portuguese translations—are known to exist, some in more than one copy.5 [End Page 238]

Yet while the great number of names and places covered in these sources may lead the reader to assume there is a wealth of information on early Christianity in Japan, and particularly in Nagasaki, the reality is that materials on the life, trade, and culture of the evanescent phenomenon that was Christian Nagasaki are extremely rare. In the first place, Nagasaki itself being a part of the tenryō 天領, the shogun’s personal domain, the bakufu followed a policy of burning all Christian-related documents that fell into its hands.6 Conversely, the missionaries themselves burned those possessions they did not wish to give up to their persecutors.7 And last but not least, Nagasaki suffered the bane of all early modern cities in Japan—devastating fires that periodically laid waste to whole swaths of the city. The result is that Japanese-language sources related to the history of Christian Nagasaki that survived did so purely by accident, and not a few, such as our document and similar lists of the brotherhoods, have been preserved in Europe rather than in Japan.8

Two things especially stand out about the Casanatense document: the large number of signatories and the inclusion of extremely precise identifying information in the form of names, addresses, signatures, and/or wooden seals. In this respect, the source offers a truly unique and detailed insight into the history of Christian Nagasaki. In the discussion that follows, I first take up the historical background to Christian Nagasaki and the persecution of Christians/Kirishitan by the Tokugawa bakufu. This will provide context for a short account...

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Additional Information

ISSN
1880-1390
Print ISSN
0027-0741
Pages
pp. 237-283
Launched on MUSE
2016-03-17
Open Access
No
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