Tag Archives: Jesuits

Ernie de Pedro’s Takayama Ukon Research

Two weeks ago I received an email from Dr. Ernie de Pedro. Turns out that he has been conducting research for years on the recently beatified Takayama. I was elated to know that he created a website with his son dedicated to the Christian samurai lord.

For those not familiar with Dr. Ernie de Pedro, he’s an Oxford graduate and former director general of the country’s film archive body. He took up his doctorate studies in UST and is now a Managing Trustee for Lord Takayama Jubilee Foundation. He specializes in Philippine-Japan history and has worked with several presidents; from Magsaysay to Erap.

Manong Ernie is a down to earth historian, approachable, rare for someone with his credentials. I met him six years ago. The Chile-based writer, Elizabeth Medina, asked me to interview him in 2011. 

According to Ms. Medina, Manong Ernie witnessed her grandfather’s​ public execution. Emilio Medina y Lazo was governor of Ilocos under the Japanese. Ms. Medina wrote Sampaguitas in the Andes (2006) a tribute and memoir to her grandfather.

When I asked if his spiritual belief is “framed within a formal religion or as a personal religiousness?” Dr. de Pedro had a profound response but the line that stuck with me was that for him, “Catholicism is a good religion to die in.” 

He ended up helping Japanese researchers after being approached for help on several occasions. They thought he was in charge of the country’s archives. He was working with film archives, not national archives. He later decided to help with research.

Last month I was reminded of Takayama when I saw the trailer of “Silenced” by Martin Scorcece. I went to the local library to look for the novel the film was based on. No copy was available. The film made the Japanese novel in demand once more.

“Silence” is about Portuguese Jesuits who came to look for their missing compatriot. The setting was during the time of the “Hidden Christians” of the Tokugawa era. Christianity was banned in 1614. Takayama came to Manila in 1615. He died a few months after his arrival.

Takayama Ukon in Plaza Dilao

I wrote several blog entries about Takayama. I take inspiration from his example. His is a story of faith and loyalty. It must have been his wish or must be God’s design that he died in Manila. Catholic burial rites was impossible under the Tokugawa ban. He would have been deprived of one.

According to Dr. de Pedro, Takayama was interred in the old Jesuit church in Intramuros. When WWII leveled much of it, the Jesuits moved the residents of the crypt to the Jesuit Novaliches cemetery. Takayama’s​ remains (along with Lord Naito) were mixed up with other bones. They did test for DNA but so far has failed to get positive identification.

When I visited the Archdiocese of Osaka I saw a simple statue of Takayama holding a small cross. The one in Paco’s Plaza Dilao have a long pointed crucifix (similar to the one in Takatsuki). The church is close to the historic Osaka castle, about 20 to 30 minute walk. Umeda or Nakatsu (closest to the Archdiocese) are the train stations nearby.

Last February, the Christian samurai lord was beatified in the Archdiocese of Osaka. The beatification puts him closer to sainthood.

In his old age, with support mainly from close friends and family, Dr. De Pedro took on a daunting task but he seem happy with how things has turn out. In his email he said, “Everyone is involved. When I crowd sourced our ramen-money for the Japan trip — every relativr from the Philippines, Japan, Singapore, the US, Canada and Norway came through! Isn’t it great to have such a formidable Support group?”

Please drop by takayamaukon.com and learn more about Justo Takayama Ukon. Support the cause and its advocates, include them in your prayers!

Here are my old posts about Takayama:

The Japanese of Old Manila


Save the Old Paco Train Station


Takayama the Catholic Samurai



The Jesuit and the Holy Spirit Church of Heidelberg…

The Holy Spirit Church (in the middle) as seen in the hills near the castle.

I have this habit of entering old churches without even knowing if its Catholic or not. Never been in trouble yet — and I don’t plan to be in one. While I was buying some stamps I asked the shopkeeper how old is the church right across their store. “Must be 6, 7 centuries”, she said. That didn’t surprised me – after all this is Heidelberg. I checked some online sources later on and she was on target. What surprised me was that the church was used by both Catholics and Protestants in the past. They were sharing it and was conducting activities simultaneously. This was made possible by a division built inside to accommodate both religion. Well, this harmonious coexistence did last for awhile but eventually the church became exclusively Protestant.

A German royalty, Rupert III, the founder of the church, was buried there in 1410. A stone sculpture made for this German king and his wife can be found inside the church. The guy comes from a long line of royalties. I tried understanding a chart about German nobility before but gave up. That was one complex family tree. What’s fascinating is that almost all of these European royalties are related. Reason why conspiracy theories flourish around how the world is ruled by these lineages of European elites.

Not far from this church is another church. The Jesuit Church (Jesuitenkirch). One of the most impressive baroque building I’ve ever seen. It was built in the 1700’s.  The church was trying to win back the townspeople they lost to Protestantism during its founding. They thought that such a monumental art piece would help the cause. I don’t know if it did but I’m glad they constructed the church anyway.

The street that leads to the Jesuit Church (the church also houses the Jesuit museum).

Such examples of architectural excellence is easily recognizable for us Filipinos because it exists in our country. Four of the UNESCO declared “world heritage” are Philippine baroque churches. But our baroque churches are unique because the Friars, learning from experience, made structural adjustments and enhancements. Since we’re often visited by earthquakes and typhoons, they focused on the foundations and structural support. This is the reason why ours is referred to as “earthquake baroque”. In some of the churches, especially in the Visayas and Mindanao, designs  were adapted to make the church a citadel in times of attacks from Moro raiders. Fascinating historical facts that are no longer mentioned in our history books these days.


Manila and the Western Fruits of Japan

Portuguese Jesuit, Diogo de Mesquita, is widely credited for planting the first western trees in Japan. In his letters to Padre Juan de Ribera he requested the following trees: fig, pear, peach, quince (main ingredient of the Tagalog spread called membrillo) and olive trees. Padre Ribera (d. 1622, Manila), the Rector of the Jesuit College in Manila, corresponded with the Jesuit in Nagasaki over what specimens should be sent over to Japan. Mesquita also did not hesitated to order from the Jesuit based in Intramuros, trees that did not exist in the Philippines. He requested for Ribera to source them elsewhere if not locally available.

The cultivation of western plants in Japan was the result of the Jesuits desire to introduce foreign specimens in the territory for the purpose of propagation. This succcessful experiment would not have been possible without the Jesuits in Manila. The plants that survived the trip are the ancestors of the western plants that exist in Japan today. These deliveries was broadly established that it became “a routine part of trade” between Manila and Nagasaki. The plants were shipped to Japan by the merchant ships of Portugal, whose captains were known to Mesquita (Around the time of the Spanish Governor Rodrigo de Vivero y Velasco, trade relations with Japan improved and Spanish ships visited the ports of Japan regularly. This opened Japan to more products from Europe, Mexico and the Philippines. Under this Spanish governor, the Franciscan’s were granted to establish missions in Japan which in turn worried some of the Jesuits including Mesquita).

The letters between Mesquita and Ribera shows how the missionaries pursued their activities in Asia with Manila being the center. The religious were pioneers in many fields of studies that benefited their converts. Mesquita would went on to become Rector of a Jesuite College in Japan and later on, the first westerner to introduce the movable type-face printing press in Japan. Just like in the Philippines, the religious used the printing technology to produce religious books to further their influence.

Mesquita also contributed to his brothers understanding of Nihonggo (Manila once had a large Japanese population administered by Spanish missionaries that spoke their native language. They were placed under the patronage of the sword bearing angel, San Miguel, as most of them were samurai descendants. The community was concentrated in the area of present day Paco. They were used by the Spanish in their conquest of the Moluccas. This community in Paco would be later sent back to their native land). Japan was an important mission for the society, so Mesquita sent Manila several invitations for local Jesuits to acquire materials on learning  the Japanese language.

Although Padre Mesquita is Portuguese, he corresponded with Ribera in Spanish. The success of Mesquita in cultivating his western trees in Japan would have not been possible without Manila. There were many trees (ie., cherry and morello) that was probably ordered by Ribera from other European merchants. However, it’s possible that these trees was once grown in the the country as the missionaries are known for their excellent agricultural research (like wheat which the Franciscan’s tried to cultivate in Laguna). Unfortunately, most often these agricultural contributions are forgotten and left unacknowledged.

Reference/Further reading:

“Fr. Diogo de Mesquita and the Cultivation of Western Plants in Japan”, by Pedro Lage Reis Correia

%d bloggers like this: