Dictator Hideyoshi, a man of no real belief, thought that a public spilling of blood would quickly convince Nagasaki Christians to abandon their faith. To this end, he ordered the executions to be slow public spectacles. Nagasaki was told of the hour of arrival of the condemned, and a great throng of Christians turned out to cheer them and shout encouragement. The twenty-six were marched to Nishizaka Hill, not far from the present Nagasaki railway station. Twenty-six neatly sawn crosses ran from the brow of the hill down toward the harbor so that everyone could see the show. The victims were fastened to the crosses by iron rings and straw ropes. Two samurai stood beneath each cross with unsheathed bamboo lances, waiting to run their weapons up under the rib cages of the prisoners. This final act was delayed to heighten the terror of condemned and onlooker.
Singing broke out from the line of crosses, “Praise the Lord, ye children of the Lord”, and the buzz over the hillside ceased as the crowd stopped to listen. The psalm came to an end, and one of the twenty-six began the Sanctus, that part of the Latin Mass, preceding the consecration, which was sung regularly by all Japanese Christian communities. When the last strains floated over the bay, a Franciscan on another cross began the simplest of litanies, “Jesus, Mary … Jesus, Mary …” The Christians in the crowd took up the prayer, four thousand of them. Hazaburo Terazawa was the official in charge of the execution, and he would have to give a personal account to the dictator. He was growing apprehensive, as it was becoming a show of Christian strength rather than the bloodcurdling spectacle Dictator Hideyoshi had ordered.
One of the twenty-six asked leave to speak. He was the thirty-three-year-old Jesuit Paul Miki, son of a general in Baron Takayama’s army, an accomplished catechist and preacher. Dying well was tremendously important for samurai, and they often met death with a “jisei no uta”, or farewell song. Miki’s strong voice reached the edges of the crowd:
“I am a Japanese and a brother of the Society of Jesus. I have committed no crime. The only reason I am condemned to die is that I have taught the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am happy to die for that and accept death as a great gift from my Lord.” Miki asked the crowd if they saw fear on the faces of the twenty-six. He assured them there was no fear because heaven was real. He had only one dying request: that they believe. He said he forgave Hideyoshi and those responsible for this execution. Then, with deliberation and in a ringing voice, he gave his farewell song. It was the verse of Psalm 31 that Christ quoted from the Cross: “Lord, into your hands I commend my spirit.”
Terazawa gave a sign, and samurai moved in with their steel-tipped bamboo lances. The samurai gave deep-throated cries, and their lances ripped into the twenty-six. The deathly silence of the crowd suddenly erupted into an angry roar, and Terazawa hurriedly withdrew to compile his report. The spectacle of humiliation had gone awry. The prestige of Christians rose dramatically, and baptisms increased.
–From “]]” by Paul Glynn.
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