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Japanese Catholics at Mass in Imamura Catholic Church, Fukuoka Prefecture, 2017 (UCA News)

A research team from Japan has discovered a letter from 17th-century Japanese Catholics to Pope Paul V, making it the first artifact of its kind found outside the Vatican. Source: UCA News.

The discovery of the scroll in Florence, Italy, is part of an on-site study program titled “Vatican & Japan: The 100-Year Project” organised by the Kadokawa Culture Promotion Foundation and sponsored by the Asahi Shimbun newspaper and the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture, the Asahi Shimbun reported on Monday.

The project, supported by various Japanese companies, focuses on the diplomatic relationship between the Vatican and Japan that “wishes to contribute to furthering this friendship over the next 100 years”.

Shinzo Kawamura, a professor of history at Sophia University in Tokyo and lead researcher of the project, considers the discovered scroll as the original letter that was sent by the Japanese Christians.

“The one in Florence is very likely the original letter,” Professor Kawamura was quoted as saying by the Asahi Shimbun.

He also added that “multiple copies were apparently made in an attempt to defend the Society of Jesus (Jesuits), which was then blamed for not having prevented a religious ban against a range of critics”.

The letters sent between 1620-1621 are appreciative notes in response to Pope Paul V’s letter of encouragement to Japanese Catholic converts who faced persecution from feudal authorities during the early Edo Period (1603-1867).

The research team also found that the contents of the letter were the same as the copies of two replies from the Tohoku region that are stored at the Vatican.

Church records say that Catholicism came to Japan after Portuguese explorers established a sea route to Asia in 1498. It is believed that Portuguese missionaries brought Catholicism to Japan in the 1540s.


Historians discover 17th-century Japanese letter to pope (UCA News)