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Asian Catholic Directory

Kyoto cathedral lives the memory of brave Japanese martyrs

Diocese of Kyoto Kyoto cathedral lives the memory of brave Japanese martyrs

Asian Catholics who wish to learn about persecution and martyrdom of Japanese Catholics for faith can visit the Cathedral Basilica of St. Francis Xavier in Kwaramachi of Kyoto.

The church is named after St. Francis Xavier, the first Catholic missionary to reach the shores of Japan on July 15, 1549. The saint is credited for introducing Christianity in Japan. Kyoto cathedral is one of several churches under the patronage of the Jesuit saint.

A striking feature of the basilica is the paintings of 187 Catholics martyrs – Japanese men, women, children, and some Europeans – who sacrificed lives for their faith in Christ in between 1573 to 1868.  

The church in Honshu Island, about 301 kilometers from capital Tokyo, has a curving roof on the pattern of Japanese Shinto shrines. French missionary Friar Villon from Paris Foreign Missions Society (MEP) built the first, baroque-style wooden church in 1890.  Swiss missionary Friar Freuler designed and constructed the present church in 1967.

Most of the church’s interior is made of marble and its stained-glass windows are decorated with images of St. Francis Xavier, St. Michael, 14 stations of the Way of the Cross, and the Resurrection. The artistic setting of images resembles the Japanese archipelago in green and purple colors. A gigantic stained-glass painting of the Creation at the backdrop of the altar adds to the splendors of the interior.

The basilica has a 19th century bronze statue of Mother Mary in the basement, and a small chapel where a priest offers Mass every day. A large pipe organ consisted of 1509 pipes and 22 stops adorns the church. The German-made pipe organ was installed in the church in 1971.

The Cathedral Basilica beholds the rich heritage of Catholicism in Japan beginning with footprints of St. Francis Xavier and brave Japanese martyrs who sacrificed their lives to strengthen the foundation of the Church.

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