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Samurai and the Cross

The Samurai and the Cross: Life and Death in Christian Japan, 1549-1650

The Samurai and the Cross: Life and Death in Christian Japan, 1549-1650

September 20 - December 10, 2021

Curated by Prof. M. Antoni J. Ucerler, S.J., Director of the Ricci Institute for Chinese-Western Cultural History at Boston College, this exhibit explores the reality of Jesuit missionaries in Japan in the late 16th and early 17th centuries through use of Japanese texts, European rare books, paintings, and other written and visual media. Many of these missionaries were martyred by Japanese authorities and went on to develop mythical proportions in Jesuit rhetoric.

A few years after Portuguese traders first landed on Tanegashima island, the Jesuit missionary, Francis Xavier (1491-1552), set sail for Japan in 1549. He arrived in the midst of the “Warring States”—a turbulent period of civil war that ended in 1600, when Tokugawa Ieyasu (1543-1616) unified the country. This exhibit displays rare artifacts from the Boston College Ricci Institute's collections that tell the story of Japan’s initial encounter with Christianity, the crisis that culminated in its prohibition in 1614, the subsequent decades of persecution, and the survival of the “hidden Christians” who continued to practice their faith in secret for over two centuries. Despite the prohibition, Christian books composed and printed by the Jesuits in China were imported into Japan both legally and illegally in the 17th and 18th centuries. These books arrived aboard the ships of Chinese merchants engaged in trade at the international port of Nagasaki—which remained a unique bridge to the world beyond the shores of Japan. This unique story of faith and resilience was made known to a wider audience with the release in 2016 of Martin Scorsese’s film, Silence, based on the 1966 novel by Japanese Catholic writer, Shūsaku Endō (1923-96). First shown at the Manresa Gallery at St. Ignatius Church in San Francisco, the expanded Santa Clara University exhibit includes many unique items newly acquired by the Ricci Institute and SCU’s Special Collections. It also displays publicly for the first time a rare 18th-century Mexican colonial-era painting of three Jesuit martyrs in Japan, on loan from SCU ’72 alumnus, Peter Reck. — M. Antoni J. Ucerler, S.J.

Sep 10, 2021

The gallery space is on the third floor of the Learning Commons and Library, next to the Archives & Special Collections Reading Room. Exhibit hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. week days and by appointment when the Learning Commons is open. Email SpecialCollections@scu.edu to make an appointment. 

Recording of Curator's Talk by Fr. M. Antoni J. Ucerler, S.J.

This talk was delivered in the St. Clare Room of the Learning Commons and Library on Thursday, September 30, 2021.