Thursday, February 09, 2012

A Jesuit bell in a Zen temple.

Earlier today at Quantum Theology, Michelle Francl-Donnay shared a story about a surprising link between a group of Catholic martyrs from sixteenth-century Japan and a Zen Buddhist temple in Kyoto:
Monday was the feast of Paul Miki and companions, martyrs for the faith in 16th century Japan. The Jesuit homilist gave a brief description of the group, who were marched hundreds of miles from Kyoto to Nagasaki in the winter. In addition to Paul Miki and two other Jesuits, six Franciscan priests and a number of lay people, including some children (altar servers according to one account I read) were crucified on February 6th in Nagasaki, preaching and praying up to the last. Catholicism went underground in Japan for the next two centuries, there were several hundred thousand Catholics still practicing their faith when the Church officially returned in 1867.

I knew the story, but for the first time had a visceral connection. When I was in Kyoto last fall, we visited Shunko-in, a Zen Buddhist temple founded in 1590. The temple has the bell that hung in the first Catholic Church in Japan, Nanban-ji, founded in 1576 by the Jesuits. The temple kept the bell safe not only through this first persecution, but the abbot (the grandfather of the current vice-abbot) hid it again when the authorities would have confiscated it to melt down for weapons in WW II.
A page on the Shunkō-in website takes note of the distinctive Jesuit markings on the Bell of Nanban-ji:
On the surface of the bell, three Jesuit seals were engraved. Those Jesuit seals contains a Christogram "IHS". "IHS" is derived from the first three letters of the Greek name of Jesus, ΙΗΣ (Jesus is ΙΗΣΟΎΣ in Greek). Also, "IHS" is connected with a Latin phrase, "Iesus Hominum Salvator", or "Jesus, Savior of Man". In addition, "IHS" is sometimes interpreted as a another Latin phrase, "In hoc signo vinces", or "in this sign I shall conquer". Under a "IHS" Christogram, there are three nails on the Seal of the Society of Jesus. Three nails symbolize the Crucifixion of Christ. Also, Arabic numerals, 1577, were engraved on the surface.
So readers who find themselves in Kyoto have something else to see - and I have another reason (among many) to want to go there! AMDG.


At 2/09/2012 10:51 PM, Blogger Michelle said...

The vice-abbot tells us they welcome the occasional Jesuit visitor who wants to see the bell. It's hung where you can touch it, I peered inside. The screens with their encoded catechesis are gorgeous in their own right, and worth the visit.

At 2/10/2012 11:30 AM, Blogger Joseph Koczera, S.J. said...

Thank you, Michelle - both for making me aware of the bell and for the additional note about Jesuit visitors, which assures me that I would probably be welcome at the temple if I someday happened to visit to see a piece of the Society's history.


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