There may have been hundreds of Japanese Samurais who secretly practiced the Christian faith and expressed it using religious codes hidden skillfully in their sword hilts, researchers have discovered.
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In the 16th century, feudal Japan implemented strict anti-Christian rules and prohibited Samurais from practicing religion. However, researchers found religious designs while taking a closer look at several ancient Samurai swords at The Sawada Miki Kinenkan museum located in the Kanagawa Prefecture, the Daily Mail details.
It appears that there were Samurais who paid metalsmiths to craft sword guards with hidden crucifixes and other religious symbols. The discoveries suggest that the secret Christians held on to their faith despite the state-led persecution.
"It is extremely rare to find sword guards with hidden Christian symbols used after the adoption of anti-Christian policies," a spokesperson for The Sawada Miki Kinenkan museum said. "The findings indicate that they kept their deep faith despite persecution."
Yuhiko Nakanishi, the chairman of nonprofit Japanese sword preservation group Nihon Token Hozon Kai, said they found that 48 out of the 367 swords in the museum had belonged to Christians. The crosses and other religious symbols are hidden in the intricate designs on the weapons.
"A characteristic of sword guards made after anti-Christian measures were taken is that Christians carefully hid crosses in their designs," said Nakanishi. "We concluded the designs show the faith of hidden Christians."
Meanwhile, Hollywood director Martin Scorcese has made a movie titled "Silence" which chronicles the life of secret Christians in Japan in the 17th century. The film focuses on the character of Sebastian Rodrigues (played by Andrew Garfield), a Portuguese Jesuit priest who traveled to Japan to look for another missionary feared to be dead or might have renounced God, The National Post relays.
During the 17th century, when religion was outlawed in Japan, those who practiced it were crucified. As Rodrigues and his companion search for the missing missionary, they end up leading a group of secret Christians who have resorted to simply praying in absence of someone who could hear their confession or conduct mass. At one point in the film, the Jesuit priests are caught by authorities and are given the choice to renounce God for their freedom or to face torture and death.