Paulo Uchibori and Sons, Japanese Martyrs of Unzen, Part IV

   Finally, at dawn on 28 February 1627, Paulo and fifteen others were taken out of Matsukura’s dungeon to start their climb up Mount Unzen.  Along the way they sang hymns and recited the Creed, and when their guards stopped to rest, they knelt, made an Act of Contrition, and prayed a Rosary; and, singing another hymn, arrived at the “hell” where they were to die; where the guards tied ropes around their necks, as if they were not human beings but the merest meat for boiling.

(Two boiling pools (above and below) in "Unzen Hell."  What remain today are mere vestiges of the    "Hell" of 1627:  Mount Unzen was reshaped by a 1792 eruption.)


The first to die jumped into the violently-boiling sulfur-water on the executioners’ command; Paulo admonished the others to wait for Matsukura’s men to do the killing:  faithful Catholics must not kill themselves.  He kept on encouraging and guiding his fellow-Catholics through their martyrdoms, guiding them Heavenward, which infuriated Matsukura’s executioners; so they saved Paulo for the last, grisliest execution:  they hung him upside-down by his feet and dunked him head-first, yanking him out to see the result.  He sang out, “Praised Be the Most Blessed Sacrament!”
They dunked him again, maybe expecting better results this time, and pulled him out a second time.  Again he prayed, “Praised Be the Most Blessed Sacrament!”   No whining, no squirming, no sur- render to the Shogun:  only praise for the Conqueror of death, until they plunged him in a third time, for good.
This was the stuff of which Saint Francis Xavier had exulted on his first arriving in Japan:  here was the good earth that bore fruit a hundredfold.  Eleven years later, Paulo’s prayer would crown Amakusa Shiro’s flag of rebellion, the flag that would fly over Hara Castle, where 37,000 Catholics would shed their blood for Christ.  It was the flag of the Confraternity of the Blessed Sacrament.  Those words of  praise, joy and victory would soar over the Shimabara martyrs’ final battleground while the Shogun’s horde stamped out his fury; words that cannot be erased or silenced, singing through Japan’s buried centuries of darkness; words flying high and ringing still:  Praised be the Most Blessed Sacrament.
We dare not shut our eyes, nor stop our ears.




 (A reproduction of Shiro's battle-flag, flying at a memorial Mass on the sacred earth where Hara           Castle stood.)

Text and Photos Copyright 2007 by Luke O'Hara