A fierce persecution of Christians in Japan began in the late 1500s and continued for several decades, ending in the virtual eradication of Christianity. But there were “hidden Christians” in Kyushu, concentrated especially in the area around Nagasaki and the setting for Martin Scorcese’s new movie Silence (based on the novel by Shusaku Endo). The “hidden Christian” practiced their faith in secret for generations. Even after Japan opened up to the world, the hidden Christians could not gain religious freedom until the late 1800s.
Urakami Cathedral was built in 1914 in the village of Urakami, next to the booming port and industrial center of Nagasaki. It was the testament of the “hidden Christians” of Urakami who could finally practice their faith openly. Formally it was called Immaculate Conception Cathedral (and still is). It was for a time the largest church in Asia. A wooden statue of Mary of the Immaculate Conception was set above the main altar.
Urakami Cathedral was a few hundred yards from ground zero of the atomic bomb which was dropped on Nagasaki about three decades later. The burned and severed head of Mary of the Immaculate Conception was miraculously found in the rubble. It is now enshrined in the rebuilt Urakami Cathedral and known as “Hibaku Maria,” or “Bombed Mary.”