January 2014 | Nate Pedersen

Vatican Library to Digitize Lost Japanese Archive

The Vatican Library has partnered with four Japanese institutions to digitize 10,000 documents from a lost Japanese archive. The documents - collectively called the Marega Papers - detail Christian persecution by the Japanese between the 17th and 19th centuries.

The Marega Papers were removed from Japan in the 1940s by Rev. Mario Marega, an Italian missionary priest who eventually deposited the documents in the Vatican library. For decades, the documents languished in the Vatican, forgotten by the world. Then, in 2010, a researcher stumbled across them in storage and was able to read and interpret the Japanese script. The researcher recognized their importance and the Vatican soon alerted Japanese authorities to the existence of the documents.

Japanese researchers arrived at the Vatican in September of 2013 to examine the archive. This week, a six-year agreement to inventory, catalogue, and digitize the archive was signed between the Vatican Library and four Japanese institutions.

Christianity was first introduced to Japan in 1549 by St. Francis Xavier, one of the founders of the Jesuits. For several decades, the religion spread around Japan, before a serious backlash began in the late 16th century, culminating with a mass execution of Christians and an outright ban of the religion in the early 17th century. It wasn't until the late 19th century that freedom of religion was again allowed in Japan.

Rev. Mario Marega arrived in Japan in the 1920s, working as a missionary.  He discovered the archive of rice-paper scrolls detailing the persecution of Christians in Japan and wrote a two-volume work about the documents before removing them from Japan and depositing them in the Vatican library.

Marega's treatise on the documents, ??????????? Documents Concerning the Persecution of the Christians of Bungo, Ky?sh?. Tokyo : Don Bosukosha, Sho?wa 21 [1946], is quite rare today.

[Image from Wikipedia]