Santa Maria dell'Orto

In November 2008 in Nagasaki, quite 188 Japanese martyrs were beatified. They were all heroic witnesses of the faith who offered their life to God between 1603 and 1639, when the persecution was hardest in Japan against the Christians. They were humble persons, missionaries, religious, boys, elderly, but also whole families.

In the middle of that thickest number of Blest there was one – in character of Archbrotherhood – we cared, and of course we care particularly. He was "our" friend of many centuries ago, because Santa Maria dell'Orto saved his life: without such intervention he could not play the shining apostleship in his country for which today he is still known.
But at this point it is well to start from the beginning, informing the polite reader that - for space reasons - we will have to make an extreme synthesis of the facts, which otherwise would occupy whole volumes.

An epochal journey Il corteo giapponese entra in Roma
In 1582 a diplomatic mission left from Japan on initiative of some daimyo (local feudal lords) converted to the Catholicism. It was the first one of such type. Four young noble were part of it: head of the delegation was appointed ItōMancio in representation of Ōtomo Sōrin, assisted by Chijiwa Michele, for the Arima families and Ōmura, and accompanied by another two young men of high lineage, Nakaura Giuliano and Hara Martino. There was added to them a little group of companions between whom we remember the jesuitical father Diego Mesquita, who was their interpreter and inspirer. In Japan, the mission was called Tenshō shōnen shisetsu or also Tenshō Ken’Ō shisetsu. It was a long triumphal journey for the whole Europe and above all to Rome where they arrived in March of 1585 to stay there over two months in the general rejoicing. Many books have been written about that formidable event, but what more interests to us, is to remember the miracle dispensed from Santa Maria dell'Orto.

They were pawned in thickest daily calendar of engagements and sacred functions, so the Pope wanted one day to offer a little bit of relaxation and coolness to the young ambassadors (it was the beginning of June) offering a trip to the sea in Ostia. The delegation went being loaded to the fluvial port of Ripa Grande, where few metres away there was the church of Santa Maria dell'Orto. They were told that there it was keeping a sacred image very much venerated by the people and so they entered for a short prayer. After that, the Japanese ambassadors and their retinue sailed on the river to reach the open sea. To gladden their return, Pope Sisto V sent to them several little ships - fitter for the fluvial navigation - adorned with rich sails, flags, stained signs and wonderful pavilions. On some of them there were musical complexes and several bards. But arrived to the sea and met the hosts, just few moments before the party began, a furious storm threatens to make being wrecked completely and all. It was in that terrible reef that the ambassadors remembered Santa Maria dell'Orto and invoked her with great fervour. Immediately it was the prodigy: it stopped the wind in an instant, the sea became calm like a lake, they all were safe. Reassured in the body and in the spirit they went up the river again singing devotional Te Deum.

Only three years later, in 1588, the Brotherhood of Santa Maria dell'Orto - become one of the most important of Rome - was raised (perhaps in honour and memory of the prodigious event) to Archbrotherhood rank by the same Pope Sisto V with the concession of special indulgences, while in 1657 the Vatican Chapter conferred to Santa Maria dell'Orto the golden crown of authentically miraculous image.
In theme of historical documentation of the miracle, the roman Pietro Bombelli - in his famous book "Raccolta delle Immagini della Vergine ornate della Corona d'Oro dal Capitolo di S. Pietro" (vol. 4; Rome 1792) - gives us wider details, telling how the Japanese ambassadors and their retinue had gone down for the river to pass a day in sea. To gladden the return, the Pope sent them "small boats with rich sails, flags and flames gilt both stern and bow and covers of wonderful pavilions. There were the woods for the embassies and others were mounted by musicians and players".
But arrived at the sea and met the hosts, "while the harmonies begin to start, a furious storm threatens them of shipwreck: broken trees, torn sails, broken rudders. In that reef they all remembered Santa Maria dell'Orto, that they had greeted shortly before. All invoked her with great fervour and they were on the fact granted. The wind stopped, the waves subsided, the calm returned.They sang Te Deum graces and then for long years used anniversary of 8th of June to going to that sanctuary to sing solemn mass in memory of the received grace".

The Bombelli's story confirms what, a century before, Gasparo Alveri had published in his not least famous work "Roma in ogni Stato" (1664), where we find the news that, still later eighty years from that event "in that church [Santa Maria dell'Orto]each year many musicians came to sing mass of graces for the danger avoided in 1585 when many bards were sent by Gregorio XIII [indeed Sisto V, Pope Gregorio died on April 10] to meet the Japanese ambassadors in Ostia ...".

Before concluding the narration of the event, we want to stop and look at - just a hint - the symbolic meant detail of the miracle mentioned. We are not sure theologians, but some references to Sacred Writing look to us of an incontestable evidence.

For the ancient, the sea was the symbol of evil's power and recalled to the minds the primitive chaos. God, who is the unique Lord of creation, has the absolute power of the sea. Already in Giobbe's Book (XXXVIII, passim) we find a first mark, when God himself applies to the prophet to remark "Who has closed between two doors the sea [...]? Then I have fixed a limit to him [...] and I said: up to here you will arrive and not further, and here you will break the pride of your waves". But it is in the Salms (CVI, 23-31) that it is possible to find a description that is surprisingly similar to the development of the miraculous event."Those who were ploughing the sea on the ships [...] saw the works of God, his prodigies in the profound sea. He spoke and made raising a stormy wind that raised his waves. They were going up to the sky, were going down in the abysses; their soul was languishing in the breathlessness. They cried to God and he freed them from their distresses. He reduced the storm to the calm, the waves of the sea subsided. They were brightened up seeing the calm and he led them to the longed-for port". Completely exactly like the small boats of the Pope that, beforehand beaten by the waves, find again the prodigious quiet of the waves and go up the river to Ripa Grande singing Te Deum.

At last, another formidable representation is in Mark's Gospel (IV, 35-41), "when Jesus decides to go to other seashore of the lake with his Disciples, followed by other boats. In the meantime a great wind storm rose and it throw the waves in the boat, much that was almost full. He was in the stern, on the pillow, and he was sleeping. Then they woke it up and told him "Master, does not matter you that we die?". Awakened, it scolded the wind and said to the sea "Silent, calm". The wind stopped and there was a great calm. Then he said them: "Why are you so fearful? Haven't you still faith". And they were taken from great dread and they were telling the one other: "Who is this person, to whom also the wind and the sea obey?".

As seen, the general structure of the story that is extracted from the pages of Sacred Writing is surprisingly similar to that one of the "Japanese" miracle: the boats are caught by a sudden and violent storm and the seafaring lost in front of much danger, turn afflicted to God, that moves to pity and stops the storm to the instant. The saved ones to certain death thank God and praise his infinite power.

The inherent symbology in the event is so clear that it is only the case to examine briefly: attacked by the forces of evil, the fragile follower is lost and it threatens to succumb, but applying with full trust to God he obtains the salvation of the soul. In our case is Mary, "omnipotent for intercession", to be done mediator with God and to obtain the health of the body and, with him, of the soul. The one who applies to her never remains disappointed, exactly Bombelli said, when he declares that Mary - venerated under the headline "dell'Orto" - is a "vegetable garden closed to the infernal snake not already to the souls of the followers, which she all loves to admit and to do participates of his munificence". Santa Maria dell'Orto offers herself to the follower like sure shelter from the storms of the life and like ship of salvation that leads to Christ.

Biography of Giuliano Nakaura Jingorō S.J., "the one who was in Rome"

nakaura He was born around 1568 in Nakaura village, today part of the municipality of Saikai, in the prefecture of Nagasaki. His father Kosasa Jingor?, gentleman of Nakaura's castle died in 1568 a little after Giuliano's birth. He, in 1582, after only two years of his entry in the Arima seminary, was chosen to be part of the official delegation in departure for Europe.

Arrived to Lisbon and received triumphantly in Madrid, they joined finally in Rome on March 22 1585. Old Gregorio XIII, who was waiting for them with great happiness, make up mind to receive them the next day, sending to them to Porta Flaminia (Piazza del Popolo) the General Father of the Jesuits Claudio Acquaviva. Juliano, who had fallen ill of malaria on the way, keenly prayed to participate in the audience: already during the long journey he had dreamt of being able to see the Pope. "if they lead me in front of him - he was telling in his hard Latin to the doctors that were opposed - I am sure that I will recover". At last, having regards of his great insistence, there was organised a short private meeting before the public audience. The old pontiff - that in that boy who was burning of fever and enthusiasm he was seeing the fruit of his hurries to open colleges and seminaries in different parts of the world - embraced him crying, while Giuliano was answering with his tears. A little later Pope Gregorio fell ill heavily, - but still in the same day of his death (April 10 1585) - he invited to pray for the health of the "little japanese boy" that he had received like a son.

During the roman stay Giuliano visited with his companions the novitiate of Holy Andrew, praying in front of the grave of the young novice Stanislao Kostka, dead few years before. His life upset to them so many deeply that on the same evening they asked audience to General Father of the Jesuits to inform him that they were wanting to remain to Rome to enter into Jesus' Company. Prudently, Father Acquaviva suggested to them first to end the diplomatic mission and then consulting F. Valignano that was their companion and advisor. The boys accepted the answer but Giuliano had already taken his firm decision and later on it maintained it, nevertheless in front of thousand difficulties.

Returned to Nagasaki and concluded the last commissions relative to the embassy, in 1591 Giuliano entered into the novitiate of the Ignatius Company in Kawachinoura, in the Amakusa islands.

Ended the first part of his studies he was sent to Yatsushiro, where between 1598 and 1660 catching part to a campaign of evangelization concluded sharply with the defeat of Sekigahara of the daymio of Yatsushiro, Agostino Konishi Yukinaga. He went then to Macao, Portuguese colony in the south-east of the India, to be improved in theology and in 1608, returned in Japan, where was ordered priest. In 1614, while others were leaving for the exile, Giuliano received the order of remaining hidden in Japan.

From 1614 until 1626 Giuliano sat down again on the Arima territory, first to Kuchinotsu in a house closely to the port and then to Kazusa in the habitation of notable premises, where he had also a clandestine chapel. From here he managed a wide "parish" territory but once a year he made a pastoral visit in several resorts of his pertinence. With passing of years his health it had to decline, turning him out to be difficult if not impossible walking, he was carrying in a basket of bamboo similar to those used by the countrymens to carry the products of the land.

Up to 1621 the small group of Japanese missionaries in secrecy on the Arima territory could work intensely and in relative quiet, then began a period of tribulations and persecutions. At last, in 1627, Giuliano moved from Arima to Kokura, where he lived the last five years of apostleship and of his life that ended in 1632, when it was captured and sent to the prison "Cruz-machi" of Nagasaki.

In prison Giuliano met several acquaintances and then many others . And while those one by one were going to martyrdom, Giuliano was kept back instead more than ten months: because he was a very well-known personage, it was logical that the persecutors were trying with all the means to induce him to the apostasy. But on October 18 1633 the doors of the prison opened also for leading him to martyrdom.

He was not going dying singly, but with a group of Dominican and Jesuitical missionaries. Following the same way as three months beforehand other glorious martyrs had covered up to the hill Nishizaka, Giuliano set out with the hands tied behind to the back and the legs atrophied for the infirmity, went up. But if his body was in heavy decay, the heart was young, so he can support the sicknesses and he can have a great courage: led to the place of the execution, in front of two governors of Nagasaki desirous to enjoy the show, he presented himself with pride pronouncing some words that were not giving place to doubts and destinated to become famous: "I am the father Giuliano Nakaura, the one who was in Rome ".

The martyrdom undergone by Giuliano was terrible. For him and other companions a new torment of refined sadism was applied: wrapped in a sheet and tied strait to bound the respiration, he was hung for the feet on head in down with the head in a hole, making his agony crueller by his jailers that caused him injury to ears so that the blood came out slowly,. Giuliano suffered being dying for quite three days up to October 21. A witness heard his last words, with which he was proclaiming of supporting those atrocious delinquent payments for God's sake.

His body, since it happened for great part of the martyrs, was cremated and his ashes put into one sack of straw, courses into boat up to the entrance of the bay and there knocked in the sea. A procedure, this one, which confirms the fact that he was executed in hate to the Christian faith: neither with the criminals nor with the traitors such method was adopted.

In the documents picked up for the beatification, it is read that Giuliano Nakaura is not only a priest martyr but also a strongly symbolic figure: emblem of the cultural exchange between East and West; emblem of the strongest tie that unites the Japanese church to Rome; symbol of the highest and noble ideals for the youth and of the fidelity to the religious vocation for the priests.

Giuliano Nakaura is still today a very popular figure in Japan: books, theatrical and cinematographic works, monuments, varied tributes have been dedicated to him.

The portrait of Blessed Giuliano

nakaura The picture kept in the church of Santa Maria dell'Orto has been realised in 2009 by the Japanese painter Kazuko Mimaki, on commission of S. Ecc Archbishop of Nagasaki mons. Joseph Takami who has generously given it to our Society. The painter, refined and sensitive artist, has studied a long time the figure of the Blessed, so much she declare that he is by now for her a kind of spiritual father and of inalienable reference.

The general installation of the picture has been in wide part suggested by the Camerlengo of the Archbrotherhood, moreover for expressed request of the same authoress. So Giuliano - nevertheless having died in advanced age - is portrayed as young man, at the time of his fabulous journey in West; the figure is "in majesty", front sight so that it must look in the eyes by the follower or also by the simple spectator. It is also the firm and fearless attitude of the one who armed only with his indestructible faith goes to the martyrdom moreover represented by the classic palm grasped in the right hand.

On the background, two emblematic images that connote the event of the miracle. The first one is, obviously, the church of Santa Maria dell'Orto, which seems flooded by the rising sun: the dawn was just sort when it was visited by the Japanese delegation. Moreover - because the church is perfectly aligned on the axis east / west, according to the most classic dictates of the sacred architecture - the east-facing front looks in direction of Jerusalem (earthly ideal goal of each Christian) as well as, going further, also towards Japan his native land and place par excellence of Rising Sol: in this way Giuliano, with the fixed look, gazes in the same instant three objectives of great meaning, while the church on his back represents the strength and protection dispensed from the Blessed Virgin.

The second image on the background is the river Tiber with his typical boats, the foreshortening of view that should have offered at Giuliano's sight in the moment to be loaded to the port of Ripa Grande that - we remember - at that time was distant few tens of metres from the church.

Giuliano puts on a Japanese traditional suit of the epoch, consonant with his patrician rank, moreover underlined by other marks of honourable distinction: to the neck, the typical pleated ruff of the western gentlemen, which became an accessory clothes "obliger" for the ambassadors during the mission in Europe; to the side, the short sword wakizashi - called also "the mark of the honour" - that normally was associating with the longest katana; to the belt, a fan made of esteemed rice paper, that in the purest Japanese knightly tradition had a function of ornament and - for the presence of his rigid sticks - of effective weapon of offence / defence.

Visit of descendants of blessed Julian Nakaura in Santa Maria dell'Orto on August 4, 2011

Dr Manabu KOZASA e his sister Dr. Hiroko SHIBANAI together two brothers in front the altar dedicated to the blessed Don Julian Nakaura

Dr Manabu KOZASA e his sister Dr. Hiroko SHIBANAI together brothers and sisters in front the altar dedicated to the Holy Madonna dell'Orto

Dr Manabu KOZASA e his sister Dr. Hiroko SHIBANAI in front of the Church Santa Maria dell'Orto

Dr Manabu KOZASA e his sister Dr. Hiroko SHIBANAI in front of the altar of the Holy Madonna dell'Orto

Prayer to Blessed Giuliano

O Dio, che al Beato Giuliano Nakaura, martire giapponese,
donasti dapprima il privilegio di essere il primo pellegrino
giunto alla sede di Pietro da quelle terre lontane e poi la
forza di dare la vita nella sua terra natale in difesa della
Fede cristiana, presentandosi anche ai suoi persecutori
come «colui che è stato a Roma»: per sua intercessione
ti chiediamo di essere sempre coraggiosi testimoni del
Tuo Figlio nella nostra famiglia, nel nostro lavoro e nella
nostra vita quotidiana, nonché di accrescere in noi l’amore
e la fedeltà verso la persona e il magistero del Santo Padre.
Un Pater, Ave e Gloria.
(with ecclessiastical approval)

"Our" Portrait of Blessed Giuliano Nakaura is currently the only existing in the world outside Japan plus exposed in a church.

Welcome address and Homily of Cardinal Lajolo during the blessing of the picture of Blessed Giuliano Nakaura.