Japan: Church commemorating 26 crucified Christians may become UNESCO World Heritage Site

The Oura Church in Nagasaki has been nominated as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.Wikipedia

The oldest church in Japan, built in honour of the 26 martyred Christians crucified in 1597, has been nominated as a World Heritage Site.

The Oura church in Nagasaki is one of several Christian sites in Nagasaki and Kumamoto to be designated by a government panel. The area was the scene of terrible persecution and Christianity was banned for most of the Edo period (1603-1868).

According to Japan Today, it is the second time the sites have been picked after UNESCO told the government panel it had not provided sufficient explanation of why they were significant. The presentations were reviewed after UNESCO said they should focus on Japan's history of banning Christianity.

Other churches nominated are dotted among remote islands of Nagasaki and Sakitsu village in Amakusa, where Christians lived in hiding to escape persecution.

Up to 6,000 martyrs may have died between 1614-1640 alone, and for many years the Church was presumed extinct.

However, in 1865, after Japan had been forced to open its borders to foreign trade and foreign residents, villagers from a village near Nagasaki visited a new Catholic church built by the Paris Foreign Missions Society.

They told the priest that they and their families had maintained Christian worship in secret for 250 years. Their prayers contained smatterings of old Portuguese and Latin and they had preserved old rosaries that belonged to their martyred fathers. It was later found that tens of thousands of 'Hidden Christians' had survived.

The story of the persecution was told by Japan's most internationally famous novelist, Shusaku Endo, in his book Silence. It has been filmed by Martin Scorsese and will be released later this year.