29 September 1637 – Lorenzo Ruiz
So let’s head to the Philippines via Japan for the latest instalment of notable dates with death.
Today marks a historic event in the Far Eastern Catholic calendar for it heralds the death of the first Filipino saint. His name was Lorenzo Ruiz and he lost his life in Nagasaki under particularly torturous conditions. But more of that later…
Ruiz grew up around Catholics and is said to have spent his childhood in a Dominican monastery in Binondo, in the Philippines, before putting his education to good use by becoming a calligrapher in later life.
Of course with this Godly start in life, things should have gone swimmingly, but he became embroiled in some dodgy court case. Virtually all sources are a little hazy on the old detail around the legal proceedings, but they all agreed that if found guilty, Ruiz would’ve got the death penalty.
It was this threat that prompted him to flee the Philippines, and where did the chump and his ecclesiastical mates head for? Only Japan, which not 20 years beforehand had passed an act banning Catholicism. So, it was not the safest of havens for a devout Christian to be absconding to.
Indeed the Japanese Shogun of the day, Tokogawa Yeyasu ruled that there would be zero tolerance of other religions and any examples would be treated with stark animosity.
So when a bunch of missionaries turned up on their hostile shores, there was hardly going to be a welcoming committee. Soon after they were banged up between 1636 and 1637 before being shipped off to Nagasaki for the trial of their lives.
But this was like no other trial we understand, in that the suspects were tortured. The infamous water torture comprised getting the missionaries to force-guzzle copious amounts of water, laying them flat, then placing a plank over their stomachs and standing people on either end. This then displaced the water so it spurted out of every available orifice.
If this didn’t break them, then needles were stuck underneath their nails and strummed like a guitar. Only one of the individuals being made to convert buckled, but he had a rethink after the torture and went on to face the ultimate penalty for failing to renounce God; death.
Let’s face it, given the torture methods, the execution was hardly going to be a walk in the park so brace yourself. The missionaries and priests were carted off to what’s known now as the Mountain of Martyrs.
Here they were hanged by their feet from a gallows and suspended half in half out of a pit according to ‘stlorenzo.com’. The pit was then closed off and heaped high with stones. The men were then left to be slowly crushed and macerated in their own blood, or suffocate, or die, or all of the above. Alternatively they could’ve renounced God.
None of them did.
This torture could last days, but the authorities got bored of waiting because it was interrupting their social lives, so they ‘commuted’ the sentences to beheadings two days later.
Problem was that 37ish-year-old Ruiz was already dead, along with one other. But three had managed to hang on and they were promptly put out of their miseries. However, it didn’t end there – in a final act of evil, the bodies were then cremated and the ashes cast out to sea, so the dead men could kiss goodbye to Judgement Day.
Not to be outdone, the Catholics went one better. Ruiz was sainted in 1987 and his feast day now falls on 28 September.
As for the Japanese, this was just a small fraction of the deaths that took place during this period. In fact, they were so sick of the religious intervention, they closed their doors to Johnny Foreigners that very same year, with the exception of a few Dutch men, according to a report by the ‘New York Times’. They were to cut themselves off from the rest of the world for a full 200 years.