I T is difficult in these days when no one is ever still and our friends on their travels can send us news nearly as often as they choose, for us to understand how strange it must have felt to our forefathers when they deliberately set sail for countries which were almost unknown, and became practically dead to their families. Yet, of course, it was just this very fact that the countries were unknown which made their charm in the eyes of many, and induced bands of navigators to leave their homes and "cast their bread" upon very troubled waters. Portugal was always first and foremost in these expeditions, and nine years before Francis Xavier was born, Vasco da Gama set sail from Lisbon, and, after planting a golden cross on the Cape of Good Hope, landed some months later at Goa, a town on the west or Malabar coast of India.
During the forty years and more which elapsed before the arrival of the famous missionary, Goa grew into a beautiful city. It was situated on a peninsula, and the soil was kept rich and green by the heavy rains attracted by the range of mountains called the Ghauts, which run along that part of the coast. In some places of the range they get as much as 300 inches of rain in the year. Think of that, when we, in London, consider that it has been terribly wet with only 25 inches!
Well, under the rule of the Portuguese, Goa became larger and more wealthy. Factories were built, and barracks for the soldiers who were needed to keep order amongst the mixed population of Mohammedans, Indians, and Catholics; and by and by priests came out to work among the people of Goa and other towns further south, which were gradually conquered by the Portuguese.
The Xaviers were a noble Spanish family whose castle was built near the city of Pamplona, in Navarre. Francis was the youngest of many sons, and was looked upon by the other boys as a creature hardly human, because from his earliest days he preferred books to their rough games, though they allowed that he could if he liked run races and jump with the best of them. His father, however, had the same tastes; therefore, when Francis at seventeen, declared his wish to study in the famous University of Paris, he instantly gave his consent. His son was, he knew, a good scholar already, and, though he was young, he could be trusted to take care of himself, and not get into any foolish scrapes, the echoes of which sometimes reached distant Navarre.
Those were pleasant, peaceful years which Francis passed in Paris, first as a student, then as a teacher or lecturer. On fine days he and his friends, Pierre Lefèvre, and Ignatius Loyola, a countryman of his own much older than himself, took long walks by the river Seine, or, when their work was done, climbed the hill to Montmartre to visit the men who spent the time from dawn to dark hewing blocks of stone in the quarries. Had he preferred an easy life to the one he ultimately chose he could have had it, for in the course of these years a canonry in the cathedral at Pamplona was offered him, and this might have led in time to a bishopric, and, perhaps—who could tell?—to the triple crown of the pope. But Ignatius Loyola was stronger even than the ambitious dreams of a young man, and on a moonlight night in August, 1534, six friends, of whom Francis was one, met secretly in the crypt of a church, and vowed to obey rules laid down by the former soldier of Charles V.
Thus was founded the Order of the Jesuits, which was recognised six years after by the Pope, Paul III.
Francis' first experience of travel was very rough, even for a poor scholar of those times. Fired by Ignatius Loyola's description of Jerusalem and the holy places which he had visited there, the new members all desired to devote their lives to preaching to the Turks settled in Palestine. It was agreed, in 1536, that Ignatius should go to Spain and arrange his own affairs as well as those of Francis, who dared not trust himself to undergo the tears and reproaches of his family, and that the others should meet him at Venice, where, if you only waited long enough, ships could always be found sailing for the East. But how to get there? That was the difficulty; for a war was raging between the Emperor Charles V and Francis I, King of France, so the natural way from Marseilles to Genoa and through the Lombard plains was closed to them. The only route open was by Lorraine, Switzerland, and the Tyrol, and snow lay on the ground; they had scarcely any money, and knew no German. Undaunted however, by these or any other obstacles, they tucked up the long garment worn by students of the University of Paris, put bibles and service books or breviaries into their knapsacks, and, taking stout sticks which would serve many purposes, they started on their journey. Considering the length and roughness of the walk it seems wonderful that they accomplished it so quickly, for it was in January, 1537, two months after their departure from Paris, that they found themselves in Venice, where Ignatius had just arrived. Thankful the travellers were to rest a little, and to have boats to carry them when they went to comfort the sick and dying in the hospitals; but after two months they were bidden by Ignatius to proceed to Rome, as it was necessary to obtain the pope's leave before going as missionaries to Jerusalem.
Though it was now Lent, and March, this journey was scarcely less severe than the last. The pilgrims at once made up their minds to fast—which perhaps was as well, as food was often not to be had—and to live by begging. The incessant rains flooded the rivers and washed the roads; the people could not understand who they were, but supposed they had formed part of the Spanish army which had sacked Rome in 1527. This was an insult which still burned deep, even amongst the peasants, and the Jesuits were made to feel it at every turn. The beds given to them in the hospitals where they sheltered, were often so dirty that even for the sake of penance they could hardly force themselves to get into them; cottage doors were shut in their faces if they asked to be allowed to rest, ferrymen declined to take them over rivers unless they gave him a shirt or something in exchange. At length with sighs of relief, they reached Ravenna, and, without stopping to look at its wonders they embarked immediately for Ancona. But here, again, they experienced the fact that he who trusts to the charity of his neighbours in his travels, and neglects to supply himself with money, does a very foolish thing. The captain of the vessel refused to let them land at Ancona because they could not pay their fares, and of course, this was quite natural, but at last he consented that Francis should go into the town with Simon Rodriguez and obtain the passage money by pawning his breviary. This done, Francis entered the market-place and threw himself upon the charity of the stall-keepers, begging for an apple or a radish or something no one would buy. But the kind-hearted peasant women, full of pity for his pale face and weak voice, gave him so much more than he asked that there was enough for himself and his friends to dine off, and the rest he sold for a sum which was sufficient to pay their passage.
The Apennines were at last crossed, and Rome lay before them. Here, the pope received them most kindly, and arranged that a discussion on some points of church discipline and doctrine should be held during his dinner, between the Jesuits and some Roman priests, in order that he might see what manner of men they were. The strangers bore themselves so much to his satisfaction that he not only granted permission to go to Jerusalem (well knowing that a war was shortly to break out between Venice and the Turks, which would prevent their starting) but also bestowed on them money to pay their passage to the Holy Land. It was a pity he did not likewise give them enough to carry them back to Venice, for they were frequently in great straits, and had nothing to eat but pine cones, which are neither agreeable nor nourishing.
As the pope had foreseen, war was speedily declared, and it was impossible for them to sail to Jerusalem, but it is pleasant to be able to state that they honestly returned all the money which had been given them for the purpose.
For the next three years Francis remained in Italy, going wherever he was sent by Ignatius, and in spite of frequent illnesses brought on by too much fasting and many hardships, visiting hospitals, preaching, teaching children, and gaining many disciples to the order which was shortly confirmed by the pope. But six months before this happened Francis was told by his superior that he must now go further afield, and as Jerusalem was closed to Christians for the present, he must carry on his missionary labours in India.
The summons was sudden, for he was bidden to set out for Lisbon the following morning in company with Simon Rodriguez, as the Father whose place he was to fill had suddenly been seized with illness. Francis obeyed without a word; in his heart he felt that he was saying an eternal farewell to Europe, and though in his journey across Spain he passed within a few miles of his father's house he pressed on steadily, resolved to give neither himself nor his family the pain of parting. In Lisbon, he was luckily far too busy to have time to think of his feelings. He had a hundred things to do and people to see; the royal family were deeply interested in all his plans and were ready to help him to the utmost, but the only gift he would accept was some warm clothes for the voyage.
It was on his 35th birthday, April 7, 1541, that the governor's vessel, with Francis Xavier on board, weighed anchor. It was a terrible voyage, and always full of anxieties of various kinds: they might be becalmed and unable to proceed till their provisions were exhausted; they might be wrecked or be captured by pirates, or the crowded state of the vessels and the bad food might cause illness. At that period, the dread of the rocky coast off the Cape of Good Hope was so great that nervous passengers were in the habit of taking winding sheets, so that if the ship struck and they died they might be buried decently at sea, though it does not appear who was to have leisure at such a time to attend to their corpses.
It was the custom for five or six vessels to sail together so as to help each other in case of danger, and if the governor's own ship was crowded with nine hundred people, the rest are likely to have been yet more full. Except for crossing from Italy to Spain, it was Xavier's first voyage, and at the beginning he was very sea-sick, however, as soon as he could possibly stand up he made friends with the crew and passengers, all of them apt to be lawless and undisciplined; and when scurvy broke out as they crossed the equator, so many were struck down that it was left to Francis and the two companions who had sailed with him, to nurse the poor plague-stricken creatures, and even to wash their clothes as well as their bodies. The Cape of Good Hope with its golden cross, was at length reached and passed, but the voyage had taken so much longer than usual that the governor determined to spend the winter in the Portuguese settlement of Mozambique, opposite the island of Madagascar. Here Francis, worn out with all he had undergone, fell ill of a bad fever, and by his own desire was taken to the hospital.
When, in March 1542, orders were given for the fleet to put to sea, Xavier was well enough to go on board, but he left his companions, Father Paul of Camerino, and Mancias who was as yet unordained, to tend the sick till they also had recovered.
In two months Goa appeared on the horizon, the golden cross of Vasco da Gama glittering in the sun. Xavier lost no time in visiting the bishop, and in expressing his readiness to do whatever was required of him, although, as the pope had appointed him apostolical legate, he really owed obedience to nobody. He then went to the boys' college, which had been founded a few years earlier, and was in a very flourishing state. It was hoped that by and by the boys, when well educated—for as to this the Jesuits were very particular—might in their turn, become missionaries and go out and teach others. Xavier stirred up the governor to inspect the prisons and hospitals constantly, in order that he might at once perceive and check abuses, and during each day he spent hours in seeing the poor in their homes. Sometimes he would stand in public places preaching, and after he had been in Goa a little while and had taught the children the catechism and the creed, they would all walk through the streets singing them, Xavier marching at the head.
A long way to the south of Goa, the Indian peninsula ends in Cape Comorin, with the island of Ceylon lying opposite. On the eastern side of the Cape is situated the most famous pearl fishing in the world, and here dwelt the tribe of Paravas, a poor and weak people who some years earlier had been drawn into a quarrel with the much stronger Mohammedans, and had appealed to the Portuguese for help. The Portuguese instantly offered their protection if the Paravas would become subjects of their king, which the natives, perceiving no other way of peace, willingly accepted. The Portuguese fulfilled their part of the bargain; the enemies of the Paravas were put to flight, the pearl fisheries became again the property of the tribe, and they themselves were baptised wholesale.
It reminds us of the baptism of the Russians in the time of the Grand Prince Vladimir, 500 years before, when one group was sent into the river and all christened "John," to be followed by another called "Peter," and so on.
Having baptised the Paravas and made them nominal Christians, the Portuguese left them to themselves, and when Francis arrived amongst them they were as ignorant of Christianity as babies. He began, as usual, by instructing the children, whom he represents as being very eager to learn. "It often happens to me," he says, "to be hardly able to use my hands from the fatigue of baptising them, and their hatred for idolatry is marvellous. They run at the idols, dash them down and trample on them." Francis must have forgotten his own childhood and that of his brothers, if he thinks these actions were entirely due to holy zeal; or that their "fearlessly witnessing against their parents in case of their quarrelling and using bad language and getting drunk," was wholly "a sign of grace."
Having provided for the future teaching of the Christians along the fishing coast, and after having preached in many of the towns in that part of the country, Xavier found other work awaiting him on the opposite side of the Indian Ocean.
Trade with Portugal had caused the kings of Celebes, and of several of the neighbouring islands, to make inquiries about Christianity, and many even to adopt it. At Malacca, on the Malay Peninsula, the great market for the goods of China and India, Arabia and Persia, there was already a Christian station, and when Francis heard that priests had been sent for from thence to preach to the various islanders, he made up his mind to join them without delay. In September, 1545, he reached Malacca, and, though he obtained many converts during the four months he stayed there, and was always treated politely and kindly, he felt himself that he had made no real impression on the people, and that most likely those whom he had baptised would fall back as soon as he left them. Some months were passed among the other islands, and it was at Amboyna that he met with the Spaniard, Cosmo Torres, who became his friend and the sharer of his labours, to the end of his life in Japan. It was on the occasion of a second voyage to Malacca after a visit to India, that he heard of the existence, in the seas north of China, of a group of islands called Japan, where "the whole nation surpassed all others in its desire for knowledge." A few Portuguese merchants, always on the look out to extend their trade, had already touched at their ports, but it was from a young Japanese, who had fled from the Buddhist monastery where he had taken refuge to escape the punishment of murder, and had been brought by a friend of Xavier's to Malacca in search of peace, that Francis learned more about this strange people. Anger, for that was his name, or at any rate, it was as near as Xavier could get to it, had frequent talks at Malacca with "the Apostle of the Indies," for he had managed to pick up a little Portuguese during his voyage. It is curious to notice that, in the main, the impression made by the young man on the missionary hardly differs from the accounts given by modern travellers. Anger asked endless questions as to the doctrines of Christianity, and never needed to be told anything twice. And when, in his turn, Xavier inquired if he thought that there was any chance of the Japanese adopting the Christian faith, he answered that they would listen, and question and weigh the words of the preacher, but they would likewise require that his life should be good and kind.
"If the rest of the Japanese have the same zeal for gaining knowledge that Anger has, then they surpass in genius all nations anywhere to be found," cries Xavier and the exclamation rings in our ears to‑day.
After Francis had settled the business of the missions in India, he embarked in April, 1549, at the town of Cochin, intending to go to Japan by way of Malacca. He had with him a little band of friends, among whom were Father Cosmo Torres, Anger, now called Father Paul of Santa Fe, or the Holy Faith, and two or three Japanese students who had somehow found their way to the college at Goa. It was, of course, an immense help to him to have these young men to talk to for so many weeks. First they could teach him the Japanese language and the customs of the people, as well as their history and the two religions of the group of islands. Xavier was chiefly brought into contact with the one called Buddhism, taught five hundred years before Christ by a young Indian prince who lived near the Ganges, which had since spread over a large part of Asia. In the beginning, the founder, Gautama, or Buddha, had laid down strict rules of good living, but in the 2000 years which had passed since his death, his disciples had sadly fallen away from his teaching.
The governor of Malacca was a son of Vasco da Gama, the discoverer of the Cape of Good Hope, and he gave the missionaries everything that could be needed in their voyage, as well as handsome presents to the real ruler of Japan. For ever since the twelfth century the power which for about 1800 years had been exercised by the dynasty of Jimmu, still represented by the present emperor or Mikado, had fallen into the hands of his minister and commander-in-chief, the Shogun. Till 1868, when the reigning Mikado suddenly broke his bonds, and adopted, to a great extent, European ways, he was merely a shadow; spoken of with awe and respect, it is true, and surrounded with luxury, but with no more power than the youngest of his subjects.
Before starting on the second part of his travels, Xavier was much cheered by letters from some of the Portuguese merchants in Japan, saying that they had spoken of the doctrines of Christianity to several people in the country who were well inclined to the faith, while a powerful noble (or Daimio, as the nobles are called) had sent an envoy to Goa to ask for teachers. The letter goes on to say that, when on landing the merchants had requested the Daimio of that district to appoint them a house where they might stay while they were doing their business, he had put a group of empty buildings at their disposal. The houses looked large and good, and the merchants rejoiced at getting such comfortable quarters—much better than anything they had expected. But in the night they were awakened by the cold—for it was still winter—and found that the warm blankets and quilts they had piled over them had slipped on to the floor. Pulling them up again, and tucking them in more securely, they went to sleep, but soon the same thing happened. Thus it was for many nights, till the poor, sleepy men began to think that some one was playing them tricks, though they could find nobody anywhere near the place. A few nights later they were all aroused by a frightful shriek, and seizing their swords they rushed to the room from which the sound proceeded, then occupied by a servant. But the door was bolted from inside, and in answer to their shouts, a voice inquired what was the matter.
"That is for you to tell us," cried the merchants; and when the man pulled aside the bolt they found him quite safe and the room empty.
"We thought you were being murdered," they grumbled, and the servant replied:
"No; but I woke feeling that some one was there, and on opening my eyes there was the most terrible spectre that ever I saw in my life. But in my fright I made the sign of the cross, and it vanished."
The next day, as the servant was nailing up crosses on all the doors, the neighbours who had heard the noise—for the houses were mostly of paper, on account of the great earthquakes—came running to know what it was the foreigners had seen.
"Why should we have seen anything?" answered one of the merchants who did not like being made game of, as he thought was the case. Then the Japanese told him that the house was haunted by an evil spirit—"a kind of plague common in these parts"—and that they wondered that the Christians had been able to bear its tricks for so long. Had they a charm that prevented them from being frightened? And if so, would the honourable gentlemen tell their servants what it was.
"It was by this sign the spectre was conquered," replied the merchant, holding up a cross, and forthwith the Japanese set about making crosses of paper or wood and fixing them on to their houses. "And from henceforth," ends the writer, "the town was delivered from such ill-doings."
A voyage was always a terror to Francis, and he seems to have expected the one from Malacca to Japan to be more than usually full of danger. However, his fears did not prevent his holding long conversations with his Japanese pupils, and again expressing his surprise at "their eagerness for knowledge." On his side, Xavier sends home accounts of the Japanese people and his reception at the city of Kagoshima, and his first impressions were very favourable. "Of all nations I have ever seen, I cannot remember ever to have found any, Christian or heathen, so averse to theft," he writes. "They are wonderfully inclined to all that is good and honest." "Among barbarous nations there can be none with more natural goodness than the Japanese."
Perhaps he set too high a value on the interest they showed in his preaching, for curiosity is a characteristic of every Japanese, but they listened to him eagerly, and for awhile it seemed indeed as if Christianity would displace the two old religions.
As has been said, the Jesuits were the great educational order of the church, and it was seldom that they opened a mission church without opening a school also. Their cleverest masters were given to the youngest pupils because they were more difficult to teach. Therefore, it was natural that Xavier should be struck with the number of colleges and the large university at Kioto or Miako where the Shogun lived, and the attention paid to the education of the boys who went to school at eight and stayed there till they were twenty, after which wives were found for them. The love of children for which Xavier was always noted made him notice with pleasure the care taken of the funny little black-haired things, tumbling about in their loose dresses, and crowing with delight at the wonderful masses of flowers that springtime brought. He soon made friends with them and taught them their catechism, and his heart was full of high hopes for their future. Little did he think, when he left Japan to return to India, that some of his small playfellows would be called upon to lay down their lives for their faith.
St. Francis Xavier teaches the Japanese children their catechism.
It was, as was natural, the bonzes or Buddhist priests who first stirred up strife, and persuaded one of the Daimios near Kagoshima, to forbid any of his people to become Christian on pain of death. In spite of this edict, however, for some months they were left alone, and Francis and his followers went about from one island to another teaching and preaching as usual. The very journeys were full of difficulties which would have been impossibilities to most men. A civil war had broken out, and bands of soldiers were to be met with all over the country. The peasants insulted the missionaries and often threw stones at them. Snow lay deep, and on one occasion the missionaries lost their way in a forest. The sun was hidden in the clouds and they had nothing to guide them, and it seemed as if they must spend the night where they were, and would probably be found frozen to death next morning. While they were in this plight, a horseman came up, burdened by a box which threatened every moment to slip to the ground. He stopped when he saw the little band, and asked how they came there. They told him that they did not know in what direction they ought to go, on which he laughed roughly, and said:
"Let this man carry my luggage and follow me, and you will find yourselves by and by at the end of the forest."
Thankfully Francis laid the box on his shoulders, and started off rapidly, as he dared not lose sight of the horse. So fast did he go that his companions were soon left behind, and when, many hours later, led by the tracks of both man and horse, they emerged into a plain with a small town on it, they found Xavier lying exhausted on a bank, his feet and legs so badly bruised and swollen that they were obliged to carry him to an inn, and let him rest for many days before he could proceed on his journey.
The history of the mission to Japan is a history of contrasts. The Shogun, the Daimios, and the people seem to have been anxious to adopt Christianity, and nothing could have been more splendid than the reception given to Xavier at this time at Miako. Almost unexampled honours were showered upon him; he was seated at the Shogun's table, and went daily to see him and to talk to him about his religion. More than one bonze had been converted, which made the rest more bitter than ever; and all his experiences told Francis that everything was ripe for persecution. The lives of the Christians only depended on the good will of the various rulers, and especially of the Shogun; and who could tell how long that might last?
It was, therefore, with very mixed feelings that he received letters, bidding him return to India at once with the Portuguese trading fleet. He had never meant to do more than spend a couple of years in Japan, so as to organise the different missions, and the two years were now up. Yet the promising beginning had given place to dark fears for the future, and it was very hard to leave his converts when danger was so close at hand. But obedience was his first duty, and for the rest he must trust in God. So he went over to Bongo for the last time to rebuke the prince for his evil life, and, as usual, his words did not fail of their effect at the moment. Still he did not feel confident; the Japanese he knew, were easily moved—in either direction.
In November 1551 Xavier sailed for India, having written beforehand to request that other missionaries might be sent to Japan, as the work and constant travelling was too much for the few fathers. In answer to his appeal, Father Balthazar Gago, and some other priests, embarked for Miako, and, after a kind welcome from the Shogun, went on to the port of Amanguchi, across the mountains, where Father Torres awaited them. The two priests were not long together: Balthazar departed to the district allotted to him, and a month later, on the outbreak of a civil war, Torres was literally forced by the converts to put himself out of danger by leaving for Bongo, which was at present at peace.
Things remained much in this state for the next five years. The missionaries never faltered in preaching and teaching, and thousands allowed themselves to be baptised. The fathers rejoiced greatly, but at the same time they knew well that in this fact lay their peril. Was it likely that the bonzes would stand tamely by and watch their power slipping way? Twice or thrice they had already stirred up their followers to revolt and it did not need a very wise head to tell that on the next occasion the struggle would be more serious.
The opportunity of the bonzes came at last in Firando, when the Portuguese priests were commanded by the prince to quit the town, and for the sake of their converts they dared not disobey. Their departure was the signal for a general riot, when the churches were sacked and the altars were pulled down—no doubt with the assistance of the Buddhist children! But vain were the threats or persuasions of the bonzes; the converts stood firm, and even the execution of a slave-woman had no power to move the rest. Japanese, unlike many Europeans, are never afraid to die.
The persecution once begun, spread rapidly. The fathers who had escaped from Firando were caught by some Japanese, stripped and turned loose, though their lives were spared. For days they remained hidden in a cave, without food or light, till, with the help of some friends, they managed to reach Bongo. Here they went about from city to city, and even founded three hospitals in which they gathered the sick, the foundling babies, and the lepers. As before, the prince was on their side, and offered them money, and when they refused this for themselves, he gave it at their request, for the support of the hospitals.
In accordance with the changes that were so strong a feature of the Japanese mission, affairs now began to take a turn for the better. The most powerful man in Japan took the Christians under his protection, and though he did not himself become one, a Daimio was converted and was baptised by the name of Bartholomew. A cross was embroidered on his robes, which of itself was an act of courage, for death on the cross was reserved, as was the case in Rome, for the lowest felons. Thus proclaiming his faith he rode at the head of his troops during the war, and surrounded the city temple. The soldiers occupied the position unsuspiciously, for it was their custom, before marching to battle, to pray for success to the war god, but it is strange to learn that they obeyed their prince without a word when he ordered them to break down the image of Buddha. After the peace was made, he destroyed the other temples in his dominions, and even, one is sorry to hear, interfered with the harmless custom of spreading out a feast once a year to the dead relatives of the people.
Now, reverence for their ancestors is one of the most cherished beliefs of the Japanese, and they arose as one man against this insult. It was to no purpose that Bartholomew gave the money which the feast would have cost to feed the poor. He had touched them in their tenderest place, and they would not forget it. The rebellion burst forth. Bartholomew, after escaping once, was besieged in his huge stone mountain fortress, but though he got the better of them on that occasion his action had dealt a severe blow to the Christian religion.
The year 1582 marks a stage in the history of Japan, for it was the date of the interesting embassy sent to the Pope, Gregory XIII, by some of the most powerful princes to ask for more help in Christianising the country. The ambassadors themselves were unusual also, for they were four young Daimios, all under sixteen. They set out under the charge of two Jesuit fathers, and after spending some time in Goa went on to Lisbon and Madrid. Everywhere they were received with the utmost kindness, and were shown all that the capitals held of wonder and magnificence, and we may be sure that the sights were keenly appreciated by their young eyes and quick brains. As soon as they entered Italy, crowds turned out to see them, curious to know what these strangers from the ends of the earth would look like, and how they would behave. They only saw four slight, pale-faced, rather short boys, quiet, but not in the least shy, managing with perfect ease the horses sent for them. Their dress alone would have marked them out as different from Europeans. Their white silk, wide-sleeved robes were covered with birds and flowers, all beautifully worked in their natural colours, and kept in place by a folded sash, and their finely tempered swords had their sheaths and hilts covered with precious stones and enamelled designs. In this guise they followed the carriages of the Spanish, French, and Venetian ambassadors, and, surrounded by the Roman nobles, they rode through the city for their audience of the Pope. When they left Rome, after witnessing the coronation of the new Pope, Sixtus V, it was as Knights of the Order of the Golden Spur, and under the promise to maintain the Christian religion with the last drop of their blood.
The persecution, which had for so long been smouldering, was destined to come to a head under the famous Hideyoshi the Shogun, the conqueror—with the help of an army largely composed of Christians—of the kingdom of Corea. Perhaps if the Jesuits had been left to manage by themselves, peace might have existed for some time longer, but a body of Franciscan missionaries came over from the Philippine Islands, and their zeal was greater than their discretion. By their tactless conduct in thrusting their religion openly in the face of the people of Nagasaki, the most prosperous missionary settlement in the country, they drew on themselves a sentence of banishment. The Jesuits, out of their long experience, implored them to be more careful, and pointed out that the future of the Catholic Church was at stake; and the arrival of the new bishop appointed by the Pope, a man of sense called Martinez, smoothed things over with the Shogun for a short time. Then, stories reached Hideyoshi's ears that the Franciscans were again transgressing the orders he had given, and he began to suspect a deep-laid plot to destroy his government. This idea was fostered when he learned that a Spanish captain had been heard to say that Philip II owed his wide possessions chiefly to the missionaries.
That silly and imprudent speech was the death-knell of the Christians in Japan.
The first thing to be done was to discover exactly who were Christians, and so papers were prepared and the Christians ordered to come and sign their names. One and all—even the children—obeyed, though they understood fully that the object of this census was to be able to find them at once in case the persecution was decided on. But at this moment, Hideyoshi only intended the Franciscans to die; the Jesuits, as a body, he liked and wished to spare as long as he had an excuse for doing so.
A huge multitude was gathered on the plain of Nagasaki to see the sentence carried out. The martyrs were led out altogether, the Franciscan friars, two or three Jesuits who had attended their church, and several young children. The punishment was the same for them all—crucifixion, but in Japan that death, though only suffered by those who are considered degraded, was more merciful perhaps than any other. The victims were only tied to the crosses and were killed by one thrust of a sword.
Thus died the martyrs, scorning alike the prayers of their relatives and the offers of pardon made by the governors if they would give up this new faith and apostatise.
The death of Hideyoshi afforded the Christians a short breathing space, but under his successor (who usurped the place of Hideyoshi's son) the many edicts which were in force against them, Jesuits as well as Franciscans, were carried out or not, just as it pleased the various princes.
In Higo large numbers were driven from their houses, and anyone who sheltered them incurred the penalty of death. At the end of six months, however, the few survivors were allowed to take refuge with their fellow Christians.
Thankful they were to be permitted to rest for a little with the kind Jesuits, though they were greatly saddened by the news that a fresh edict had been proclaimed in Higo, summoning Christians, on pain of death, to be present at a ceremony which was to be performed on a certain day in the house of a bonze. The governor was ordered to see that the edict was carried out, and it was understood that those who obeyed should be considered to have returned to the Buddhist religion, and be pardoned. The governor did his utmost to persuade two nobles—John and Simon—his own personal friends, to comply with the order, hoping that the others might follow their example, but it was in vain that he urged them to bribe the bonze to say they had apostatised, or to allow the ceremony to take place in private, so that none might know. Neither John nor Simon would listen to his proposals, and when, in pursuance of his duty, the governor was obliged to suffer John to be brought before the bonze, and the Buddhist book was placed by force upon his head, he proclaimed his faith so loudly that it was impossible to prevent the punishment being executed at once.
With Simon he fared no better. The young man was with his mother when the governor entered, and he entreated the poor lady to induce her son not to throw his life away. But the mother, herself a Christian, declared it was an honour that Simon should die for his Lord; and the governor, angry and sorrowful, left the house, sending, as was the custom, a friend of both himself and Simon to behead the condemned man. This friend, Jotivava, was joyfully received by Simon, who begged his mother to fetch warm water, as if it was a feast, that he might wash himself. This done, he walked between his wife and his mother to the great hall, followed by three Christian brothers and the noble sent to be his executioner. He died, praying to God for mercy, and twenty-four hours after, his wife and his mother died likewise.
From all parts of the country news poured in of hundreds and thousands who had fallen victims to their religion, and among these many were children. A story is told of a whole Christian family who were condemned in the province of Arima. The father and uncle were put to death first, but there was a short delay in the execution of the grandmother and the two little boys. "Your father has died for Christ, and so must you," she said to them when she received the message. "Is there anything better that could happen to us?" answered they. "When is it to be?" "Now," she replied. "Go and bid farewell to your mother." The boys left her, and arranged with their nurses how their toys should be given away among their friends; and they put on the white garments which their grandmother had prepared for this day that she knew would come. Then they went in to their mother.
"Farewell, dear mother," they said, kneeling; "we are going to be martyred."
"Oh! if I could only be with you," she cried, for she
and her daughter had escaped condemnation, "but your
father is holding out his arms to receive you. Kneel
down, loosen your collars, bow your heads, and call
Happy were those who suffered death from the sword, for soon the martyrs passed through fire and other horrible tortures from this life to another. At length, in 1614, it was resolved to banish the Christians from the kingdom, but out of all the four orders at that time working in Japan—for the Dominicans and Augustinians now had missions there—the Jesuits alone were allowed to say a farewell mass at Miako. Then they were sent to Nagasaki, whence they embarked for their different places of exile.
The massacres went on for many years longer, and at last there was hardly a Christian left in Japan. Then all the ports, except Nagasaki and Firando, were closed to foreigners, and the country remained a sealed book till the Mikado, in 1868, resolved to make it as free as the Western World.