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An Icon from an Age of Persecution

A bit of Japanese Christian history, via the Asahi Shimbun (links added):

KYOTO–Behind the serene smile of the Madonna in the scroll “Maria Jugo Gengizu” linger clues about a history of bloody religious persecution.

Dating from the early Edo Period (1603-1867), the unique religious icon, whose name means 15 scenes from the life of Mary, remained hidden for centuries.

…Those who created and preserved the painting risked their lives to do so. In the early 17th century, the Tokugawa Shogunate outlawed Christianity, and Christians were forced to renounce their religion on pain of death–sometimes by burning or crucifixion. Devotees went underground, becoming kakure kirishitan, or hidden Christians.

…The painting is done mostly in oil paint, using a color scheme virtually unknown in Japanese art. At the same time, parts of the picture are done in Chinese ink, and Mary, who traditionally holds roses, is holding a flower more familiar to Japan, the camellia.

Specialists assume the painting was executed by a Japanese artist who had studied Western techniques.

The scroll is now on temporary display for the first time, at Kyoto University Museum. Here’s a rough idea of what it looks like, from my photo of the poster outside the exhibition:

mariajugo-gengizu

One detail that puzzles me: what is the woman holding and why does it apparently contain a pair of eyes?

maria-closeup

UPDATE: Commentator Ray explains the eyes:

The woman is St. Lucy and she is always portrayed with a tray with a set of eyes. It had to do with her martyrdom. It was also said that a pagan man fell in love with St. Lucy because of the beauty of her eyes. since she refused to have anything to do with him, he reported her as a Christian. So before she died she gave them to him, so that he could have them. A good story if there ever was one.

4 Responses

  1. Usually when there is a woman holding a pair of eyes it is a saint who was tortured by destroying her eyes in order to force her to renounce her religion or virginity.

  2. The woman is St. Lucy and she is always portrayed with a tray with a set of eyes. It had to do with her martyrdom. It was also said that a pagan man fell in love with St. Lucy because of the beauty of her eyes. since she refused to have anything to do with him, he reported her as a Christian. So before she died she gave them to him, so that he could have them. A good story if there ever was one.

  3. here from Jesus General’s blog and was pleasantly surprised to find that you were in Japan. This story may interest you
    From the LA Times http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/world/la-fg- monk23feb23,0,4692429.story?coll=la-home-headlines

    NAGANO, Japan — Junshin Hosono says he never thought of himself as a worker, at least not the way Karl Marx or Jimmy Hoffa ever thought of workers. Hosono is a Buddhist monk, and for 28 years he has chanted prayers and offered spiritual guidance at Zenkoji, the prestigious complex of temples that is the soul of this city.

    [snip]

    Hosono said the head priest also banned him from the main floor of the Daikanjin temple, the sect’s headquarters at Zenkoji, and barred him from speaking to other monks and presiding over spiritual matters such as funerals that help provide him with a modest income.

    “It was harassment,” Hosono said. “I wanted him to stop. I wanted him to release me from that room.”

    So the monk went out and got himself a union card.

    Along with four sympathetic monks and four office workers from the Daikanjin temple, Hosono formed a small but certified union affiliated with Japan’s National Confederation of Trade Unions. The organization says it is the first time Japanese monks have ever banded into an affiliate. With overall membership on the wane in Japan, union leaders were only too happy to welcome newcomers, no matter how unconventional the trade. —

    ——————————————————————————–

    drop a line as I am in Kyushu

  4. It had to do with her martyrdom. It was also said that a pagan man fell in love with St.

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