San_Paolo_Miki_e_compagni_MToday is the Feast of the Franciscan Martyrs of Japan.

Wait, what? You’ve never heard of this Feast Day?

That probably has to do with the fact that the Church’s Universal Calendar remembers this day as “St. Paul Miki and Companions.” Paul Miki, a native Japanese convert to Catholicism and a member of the Society of Jesus, was among twenty-six religious and lay missionaries who were sentenced to death by the Emperor of Japan in 1597. There were two other Jesuits (John Goto, James Kisai) with Miki who were martyred on February 5th of that year, but there were twenty-three others who were also killed. All of those people were Franciscans — both members of the First Order (Franciscan friars) and of the Third Order (Secular Franciscans). Among the Friars killed included the saints: Peter Baptist, Martin of the Ascension, Francis Blanco, Philip of Jesus, Gonsalvo Garzia, and Francis of St. Michael.

We Franciscans celebrate our brothers and sisters who were martyred along with our three Jesuit brothers, but it is something to consider the relative ignorance of the wider church community about the fact that this was not simply the martyrdom of three Jesuits, or even three Jesuits and six Franciscan friars, but also seventeen laypeople.

Sometimes its worth pausing to consider just who these companions are on feast days that include large groups of people who have given their lives for their faith. This is not to begrudge the Jesuits nor the friars who were killed, but it does say something about who gets what sort of recognition in the collective memory of our faith community.

Today, at least quantifiably, is an overwhelmingly Franciscan feast day (pace, Paul Miki et al.), but even more importantly it is a feast day for the lay women and men whose work on behalf of others — including, the chronicles tell us, establishing convents, schools, and hospitals, activities all originally welcomed by the Japanese — was selfless and, despite the obvious colonial overtones of missionary work in the 16th century, done for those in need.

Paul Miki is perhaps the ‘front man’ for this feast day because he was Japanese whereas many of the other twenty-five martyrs were foreigners. Nevertheless, let us not forget the good intentions and work of all those whose lives were taken that February day in 1597.

Photo: File


  1. Thank you very much for this. I hadn’t picked up on the fact that there were any Franciscans involved let alone so many. I will remember them at Evening Prayer today and let the members of my Fraternity know about them.

    By the way I think your Francis of Assisi and the Future of Faith is excellent.

  2. In Japan, where I write from, none of them is given prominence since in the local liturgical calendar they are listed just simply as the 26 Martyrs of Japan. And we also mark their feast on Feb, 5th, shunting St Agatha to the following day.
    The Jesuits run the Martyrs Museum and Chapel in Nagasaki, so people have the impression that the majority of them were Jesuits. You need to read the explanations that go with the exhibits to understand the full story, which most visitors probably don’t.

  3. There is a beautiful mural in the Cathedral of the Assumption of Mary in Cuernavaca, Mexico commemorating this feast day an the 26 martyrs.
    Before becoming a Cathedral, the church was a Franciscan monastery, dating back to the 1525. It was established by the first 12 Franciscans to arrive in the Spanish colony. It is a beautiful and unique church: it’s murals were restored in the 1970s. My husband and I were married there almost a year ago, and it holds a special place in our hearts, as do the Franciscans. Here are some links to pictures of the church and the murals:

  4. Thanks you for this, Dan! This is also the birthday of the foundress of my community (my province is Srs. of St. Fancis of Colorado Springs) and the opening of the year of celebration of our 150 yrs as a community with General Franziskaner Mutterhaus in Olpe , Germany. When Mother Theresia Bonzel is canonized, she will share this date.

  5. Hello. Thank you for the post re Franciscan martyrs. It is often the case that not only the Church family but members of our Franciscan family are unaware of the huge number of Martyrs, Saints and Blesseds in the Order. When Sean Ward told me about this item on your blog I was delighted. I am fortunate to have recently updated Franciscan breviary supplement produced by the OFM Caps here in UK and in the Office of Readings are extracts from letters of Peter Baptist, written while awaiting crucifixion. For those who have this resource it is a way of sharing information with your fraternity, Region etc and through prayer getting to know our rich heritage through praying the Office.

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