Saints of the Society of Jesus: Blessed Charles Spinola and Companions

11 September, Martyrs

Father Charles Spinola was a relative of the famous general of the same name, perhaps the greatest warrior of his time. Among his other relatives he counted an admiral and a cardinal. His father was a favorite of the German emperor. Nevertheless at the age of twenty, despising all human grandeur, he entered the Society of Jesus, to seek the crown of martyrdom. He had the happiness of living for a while in the same house with Saint Aloysius. His first attempt to reach the Mission of Japan failed. After knocking about several months between Africa and South America, his vessel was captured, and he was taken a prisoner to England. Here persecution raged at that time, and it looked as though Father Charles need not to go to Japan for the martyr’s crown. However the English admiral allowed him to say Mass in secret, and finally assisted him in his escape. The second time his attempt to reach the mission was more successful. He landed at Nagasaki in 1602. His arrest took place sixteen years later. The governor of Nagasaki had constructed a sort of cage seventeen feet in length by seven in width. Within this, with some thirty other prisoners, crowded together, lived Father Spinola for four years, without change of clothing, and with little food, exposed to the intense heat of the sun, the cold of winter, the wind and the rain. On the 9th of September, 1622, he was led, with most of his companions still living, to the Martyr’s Mountain, as was now called the hill or cape on which, twenty-five years before, the first Christian martyrs had been crucified. On their way they met another detachment of prisoners, and both proceeded joyfully together, singing the praises of Almighty God. Twenty-five prisoners, the missionaries and religious, who were to be burned, were tied in a row to stakes facing the sea (loosely, that they might apostatize). The others, condemned to be beheaded for having sheltered the priests, knelt down in front of them. In that row, besides Father Spinola, were Father Sebastian Chimura, nephew of the first Japanese baptized by Saint Francis Xavier and himself the first native ordained a priest; seven novices, received by Father Spinola and instructed in the cage; and eleven friars, eight of the Order of Saint Dominic and three of that of Saint Francis. Among the Christians kneeling in front were thirteen women, and five children under twelve years of age. “Where is my little Ignatius?” (whom he had baptized,) asked Father Spinola of Isabel Fernandez, his former hostess. “Here he is, Father. Ask, child, for the Father’s blessing.” The boy, who was four years old, turned with his joined hands and bowed head, and the venerable priest lifted his hand in blessing. At this most touching sight a murmur which alarmed the executioners rose up from the multitude of spectators, many thousands in number, who covered the hill’s sides. The order to strike was given; the head of Isabel fell at her child’s feet, and the next moment he had joined her in glory. For three hours Father Spinola stood with his eyes lifted to heaven; then, bowing his head, he expired. Father Chimura was the last of all to die; when all had fallen, he was seen to kneel down and so give up his soul to God. This combat, in which fifty-two Christian heroes won their crowns, was called the Great Martyrdom. Many marvellous things were said to have happened on the mountain during the succeeding days, which the soldiers were forbidden to relate, under pain of death.