Photo/IllutrationGlass beads believed to have been used in a rosary were uncovered from what is thought to be the grave of Miguel Chijiwa. (Provided by committee studying grave of Miguel Chijiwa)

  • Photo/Illustraion

ISAHAYA, Nagasaki Prefecture--Relics have been uncovered here that may rewrite the history books on the claim that a prominent member of a 16th-century juvenile mission to Rome abandoned Christianity.

Glass beads that apparently were used in a rosary were found in a dig at what is believed to be the grave of Miguel Chijiwa.

Miguel was one of four youths who were dispatched by three Christian feudal lords in Kyushu to represent them on a mission to Europe. He was said to have been the only one of the four who left the church after returning to Japan.

The results of the study and the recent dig at the grave were released on Sept. 8 by Miguel's descendants, local history buffs and specialists, who had formed a committee to find what lay under a marker thought to be his grave.

Committee members reported that among the items found were 59 glass beads in five colors. The beads were between 2 to 5 millimeters in diameter with holes drilled through the middle. A semicircular glass pane about 2.6 centimeters long as well as what are believed to be human teeth were also uncovered.

Some of the beads and the glass pane are believed to have been produced in Europe. While the beads may have been used in a rosary, the pane was likely a lid for a reliquary.

A stone marker in the Ikiriki district of the Taramicho neighborhood was identified in 2004 as likely being one for the grave of Miguel. The discovery was made by Kazuhisa Oishi, 65, a former research group leader at the Nagasaki Museum of History and Culture. The finding was based on the fact that the marker was found on land that had been given to Miguel by the lord of the Omura clan, which Miguel served, and because the name of a child of Miguel was engraved on the back of the marker.

The Tensho juvenile mission was sent to Europe in 1582 and had an audience with the pope three years later. The mission returned to Japan in 1590 with a printing press, among other items.

However, around 1601, Miguel is said to have left the Society of Jesus. No clear reason was given for his abandoning the religion.

According to Oishi, the late 16th century to the 17th century was a time in Japan when conflict was rife among the various Catholic monastic orders, and the Tokugawa Shogunate also intensified its policy of destroying churches.

Oishi believes Miguel may have become fed up with the Jesuits for their inability to try to adapt to the different culture that existed in Japan.

However, Oishi said, "I do not believe that he went so far as to give up his faith."

(This article was written by Tsuyoshi Nakagawa and Senior Staff Writer Shunsuke Nakamura.)