Hidden Christian sites in Nagasaki and Amakusa region
After the introduction of Christianity to Japan in 1542, the religion enjoyed some popularity especially in the areas around today's Nagasaki Prefecture. However, the religion's aggressive and intolerant aspects eventually brought it into conflict with the Japanese leaders who ultimately banned Christianity during most of the Edo Period (1603-1867) and persecuted missionaries and believers.
Some local devotees, known as the hidden Christians, went into hiding in remote areas and on isolated islands where they continued practicing their religion secretly for over two centuries. Some sites pertaining to these hidden Christians survive today, including churches that were built after the ban on Christianity had been lifted in the early Meiji Period.
A number of these churches and sites received World Heritage status in summer 2018. They are shown on the map and described in the list below:
Oura Catholic Church was constructed in Nagasaki City a few years before the end of the ban on Christianity, where it served a growing community of foreign merchants who took up residence in Nagasaki after the end of Japan's era of seclusion and were granted freedom of religion. The cathedral is the oldest standing church in Japan.
A remote, coastal area north of Nagasaki City, the Sotome region was one of the areas inhabited by hidden Christians. After the ban was lifted, Shitsu Church, Ono Church and several other churches were built by European missionaries in the area.
Some Christians from the Sotome region settled on the even more isolated Kuroshima Island in order to more freely practice their religion. After the ban was lifted, an impressive, Romanesque church was erected with local materials such as Kuroshima granite and a dais tiled in Arita porcelain.
Some of the rulers of the Shimabara Peninsula were Christians before the ban on the religion, and their main castle was Hara Castle. Later, the castle became the site of the final battle in a large peasant uprising in 1638 which helped spark strict edicts banning Christianity in Japan.
Hirado was one of the main ports of trade with the West during the early Edo Period, but lost its prominent role when international trade became restricted to Nagasaki Port during Japan's era of seclusion. Communities of hidden Christians lived in the more remote areas of Hirado.
Located 40 kilometers off the coast of Kyushu, the remote Goto Islands offered a particularly protected environment for the hidden Christians. After freedom of religion was granted, large numbers of churches were constructed on the islands.