Oura Church   大浦天主堂

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The interior of the church Oura (Nagasaki), whose windows were imported from France.

The interior of the church Oura (Nagasaki), whose windows were imported from France.

Oura, perhaps the most famous churches in Nagasaki (1865).

Oura, perhaps the most famous churches in Nagasaki (1865).

French Touch

At the foot of Glover Garden, a sea-green colored bell tower rises up in the sky of Nagasaki: Oura, created by French Jesuits, it is reputed to be the oldest church in Japan.

The history of Christianity in Nagasaki is firstly that of its martyrs. It began in the middle of the sixteenth century, when Portuguese missionaries arrived on the island of Kyushu to evangelize this "new world". Success came quickly: from Kagoshima to Fukuoka, daimyo (feudal lords) were converted, followed by the inhabitants of their strongholds, and several seminaries and churches emerged.

But the ruling powers did not take kindly to these conversions to the religion of "barbarians" (the name often given to Westerners) and the influence they started to have. In 1614, the Tokugawa shogunate proclaimed the prohibition of the Christian religion in the archipelago: it was the beginning of the repression of those who refused to recant, of which the "26 martyrs of Nagasaki" were victims in 1597.

The first bell tower in Japan

In was in honor of the 26 martyrs that the Oura church was built in 1864, at a time when Japan put an end to sakoku (the country being completely closed to foreigners) and when Christianity became permitted once more.

French Jesuits, members of the Paris Foreign Mission, were at the initiative of its construction: Ferret Louis and Bernard Petitjean, arrived from Paris with the ambition to relighting the torch of Christianity in Japan.

Oura was originally a small wooden church, more modest than the one that replaced it in 1879 and which now stands at the foot of Yamate Hill: a Gothic chapel with stucco and wood, sporting an octagonal steeple, which was probably built on the model of a Belgian church, of which the two missionaries brought a plan with them during their Japanese visit. This is the first western style building to have received the title of National Treasury (1933).

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