Today is the feast day of Saint Agatha in the general calendar, but in the [traditional] calendar of the Philippines, today is the feast day of the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan. Let us agree to postpone the exposition of the exemplary lives of these martyrs in a future post, and just deal now with their feast, the celebration of which on its proper day is a privilege shared amongst the Philippine Islands, the Order of Friars Minor and the Society of Jesus.
The martyrs were crucified and pierced with lances on Nishizaka Hill in Nagasaki on 5 February 1597 on the orders of Toyotomi Hideyoshi, known to the Western world—indeed, even in the lessons of the Breviary—as Emperor Taikosama (in Latin, Imperator Taicosama), taikosama coming from taikō (retired agent) and the honorific sama. Of the twenty-six martyrs, six were first-order Franciscans: the three Discalced friars Saint Peter Baptist, Saint Martin of the Ascension and Saint Francis Blanco of the Alcantarine Recollection, all priests and all Spaniards; the Discalced friar Saint Philip of Jesus (who was en route to Mexico to be ordained) of the same Recollection, Mexican; and the lay brethren Saint Gundizalvus García, Indian, and Saint Francis of Saint Michael, Spaniard.
Three were Jesuits: Saint Paul Miki, Saint John Goto, and Saint James Kisai, all Japanese.
Seventeen were third-order Japanese Franciscans: the fourteen adults Saint Francis of Miyako, Saint Cosmas Takeya, Saint Peter Sukejiro, Saint Paul Ibaraki, Saint Mathias of Miyako, Saint Leo Karasumaru, Saint Bonaventure of Miyako, Saint Thomas Kozaki, Saint Joachim Sakakibara, Saint Francis Kichi, Saint Thomas Danki, Saint John Kinuya, Saint Gabriel Jusuke, and Saint Paul Suzuki; and the three children Saint Louis Ibaraki, Saint Anthony Dainan, and Saint Michael Kozaki.
[Note: The toponym miyako refers to the capital city at that time, namely, Kyoto.]
This first wave of martyrdom of Japan produced many protomartyrs. Saints Paul Miki and his companions are the protomartyrs of Japan. Saints Peter Baptist and his companions are the Spanish protomartyrs of the Philippines, and Saint Philip of Jesus is the protomartyr [and patron] of Mexico.
On 14 September 1627, Pope Urban VIII inscribed the names of these martyrs in the roster of the blessed. On that very same day, Pope Urban promulgated the bull Salvatoris et Domini nostri, granting the privilege to celebrate the feast of Saint Peter Baptist and his XXII Franciscan Companions to all three orders of the Friars Minor and to the Archdiocese of Manila, and a similarly-worded bull to the Society of Jesus transmitting the privilege to celebrate the feast of Saint Paul Miki, Saint John Goto and Saint James Kisai.
Of these martyrs, Saint Peter Baptist is the one of greatest note to the Philippine Church, as he was once the Guardian (in Latin, custos) of Province of Saint Gregory, the province of the Discalced Franciscans in the Philippines, and also became the Guardian of the Convent of Saint Francis of Manila.
|Processional image of Saint Peter Baptist|
San Esteban del Valle, Ávila
|Cranium of Saint Peter Baptist|
San Esteban del Valle, Ávila
|Old sanctuary of the church of Saint Peter Baptist|
(image from a private collection)
This chapel, replaced with stone in 1699, is the oldest church in the Diocese of Cubao, which church is now styled as the Sanctuary of Saint Peter Baptist.
|Present sanctuary of the church of Saint Peter Baptist|
[Baroque altarpieces removed sometime after Vatican II;
reinstated in time for the 400th anniversary of the church]
How the feast was celebrated in the Walled City, we could not purpose to imagine. Yet three years after the beatification of the martyrs, when their relics arrived in the Islands, a great procession, attended by a great number of faithful, was held in their honour on the feast of the Purification of the Blessed Virgin Mary, 2 February 1630. Quoting from the chronicles of the Discalced Franciscans of the Philippines:
On the day of the Purification of Our Lady in the year 1630, at two in the afternoon, the procession left our Convent in Manila through the principal gate, which faces [the church of] Saint Augustine. Four groups of the Regiment formed the head of this said procession, which groups went marching with their master-of-camp and officials. Immediately followed a standard of the Saviour, and a reed trio with other instruments, and a dance; after this went the appareled [processional] cross and the candlesticks, accompanied by their music; twelve persons followed with twelve candles of white wax, who went lighting up [a standard of] one of the Holy Martyrs of Japan, hanging from a pole, in a frame richly adorned, which the priest, vested and with choral cape, carried. In this same conformity went the other Japanese saints, each having taken into their account other such towns which painstakingly laboured for their display, and in the variety of dances and detonations which accompanied said saints, in which admiration ought to be well noted. After the Holy secular Japanese Martyrs followed the religious, whom a standard of crimson damask preceded, in whose field were depicted as though alive three on each side, which standard the factor Don Cristóbal de Mercado carried in the midst of two other royal officials, the treasurer and the auditor. The sculpted images followed this painting, each in its bier, richly bedecked, whose cost was estimated to be two million. The first bier of Saint Gundizalvus [San Gonzalo García] was carried by students of the College of Saint Joseph, students of the Most Reverend Jesuit Fathers. The second bier of Saint Francis of Saint Michael [San Francisco de San Miguel de la Parrilla] was carried by the friars of our community [Franciscans]. The bier of Saint Philip of Jesus [San Felipe de Jesús de las Casas] was carried by the Most Reverend Recollect Friars. The bier of Saint Francis Blanco [San Francisco Blanco] was carried by the Most Reverend Jesuit Fathers. Following these is the very same cross, upon which Saint Martin of the Ascension [San Martín de la Ascensión] was crucified and pierced, which cross our Venerable confrère Fray Antonio de Santa María carried. After this same cross followed the image of the said Saint Martin, accompanied by the Most Reverend Augustinian Friars. Following these was the mantle of Saint Peter Baptist, richly bedecked, and upraised upon a pole, which Fray Diego del Villar, our Definitor, carried. Following this mantle is the original tablet upon which was written the sentence which the Emperor Taikosama [Toyotomi Hideyoshi] pronounced against these said Holy Martyrs, which tablet Fray Juan Bautista, friar of this Province [of Saint Gregory the Great] and actual Guardian of our Convent in Manila. Following this sentence was the community of Our Father Saint Dominic, which carried the image of Saint Peter Baptist. Finally, the image of Our Father Saint Francis followed, which four dignities of the Holy Cathedral Church of Manila carried, whom the rest of the cathedral chapter and the clergy accompanied, while presiding over everyone the Most Illustrious Lord Bishop of Cebú, Don Fray Pedro de Arce, actual administrator of the archbishopric, in pontifical vestments, accompanied by the Most Reverend Provincials of the Sacred Religious Orders, with choral capes. At the end of the procession is the Governor [General] of the Islands, Don Juan Niño de Tabora, with his Royal Audience, the City, and the rest of its neighbouring districts, all richly vested. Thus [the procession] arrived in the cathedral, and vespers began, which the said Lord Bishop of Cebú officiated, sung by seven choirs conducted by Fray Martín de Carmona, our confrère, distinguished musician, as choirmaster. With vespers, the first demonstration of that day ended, followed at night by various fireworks display. And in all of the remaining days, there were sermons and sung Masses with all grandeur and solemnity, and in the afternoon, comedies and bullfights and other festive entertainments.
Let us not end this post with a bitter litany on the desuetude of the feast, but with an extolment of the virtue and martyrdom of these saints, recalling in our mind the collect, which, at the Patriarchal Basilica of Saint Peter, after the solemn singing of the Te Deum, which was continued by a choir of more than forty thousand choristers, united with the pealing bells of all the churches of the Eternal City, amidst the artillery salute of the cannons of the Castel Sant’Angelo, and the march of the military band, and the jubilation of an exulting populace, Pope Pius IX sang on 8 June 1862 during the canonisation of the blessed martyrs, together with Saint Michael of the Saints, in the ferial tone:
Dómine Jesu Christe, qui ad tui imitatiónem per crucis supplícium primítias fídei apud Japóniae gentes in sanctórum Mártyrum Petri Baptístae, Pauli et Sociórum sánguine dedicásti ; quique in corde sancti Michaëlis Confessóris tui caritátis ignem exardéscere fecísti : concéde, quaésumus ; ut quorum hódie solémnia cólimus, excitémur exémplis : Qui vivis et regnas cum Deo Patre in unitáte Spíritus Sancti, Deus, per ómnia saécula saeculórum.
To which the entirety of Christendom, rapt in exultation, replied:
Amen.Ut in omnibus laudetur Dominus.