The Unzen Martyrdoms, Part One

       A scar-faced volcano called Mount Unzen looms over the Shimabara Peninsula, a land once known as Arima, a thoroughly-Catholic land. At the mountain’s summit, shrouded in acrid steam, sulfurous volcanic springs boil and bubble up gases that sting the nose and eyes.  Just as the volcano’s occasional eruptions would raze and sculpt the Peninsula’s terrain, its boiling, sulfurous springs would prove many a human spirit and, in the process, temper the spirit of Arima’s Catholic faithful at large—steeling Arima’s very soul.



           Paulo Uchibori, a Christian samurai who in his superhuman death glorified God, was among the first group of Christians to be tortured and killed for their faithfulness to Christ by being scalded to death in the boiling, sulfurous Unzen “Hell.” (above, right)

          Paulo Uchibori Sakuemon was born in the village of Arieh, a few scant miles up the coast from the Christian daimyo Arima Harunobu’s castle-town of Arima.  Harunobu was a staunch Catholic who offered his domain as a refuge for clergymen fleeing from the dictator Toyotomi Hideyoshi’s persecution—Hideyoshi had banned the Faith in July of 1587—and Paulo Uchibori was one of Harunobu’s samurai.

         In 1612, however, Harunobu was executed by order of Tokugawa Ieyasu, the de-facto Shogun.  Harunobu’s eldest son and heir, Naozumi, apostatized on Ieyasu’s orders and, after an abortive effort to expunge Christianity from the Peninsula, requested transfer to some less-challenging turf.  Arima then passed into the hands of a crony of Ieyasu’s who did his utmost to drive out Christ by torturing, mutilating and dismembering hundreds of faithful Christians in Arieh and the castle-town of Arima.  This man, named Hasegawa, was soon recalled to the ruler’s palace, but he left behind in the fields of Arima two hills of human flesh:  one of chopped-up Christian bodies and the other of Christian heads.

          Then came the Matsukuras, father and son, to rule over the Peninsula in succession.  The father, Shigemasa, was at first willing to play live and let live with the Christian faithful of the old Catholic domain of Arima, but the new Shogun, Tokugawa Iemitsu, eventually infected Shigemasa with his own demonic, paranoiac hatred of Christ—for this Shogun, Iemitsu (pictured below), was enslaved by pederasty and bloodlust, the latter of which he slaked by testing his sword on random victims wandering the streets of his capital at night.   

736px-Iemitu Iemitsu, 3rd Tokugawa Shogun