The Society of Jesus was the youngest Catholic religious order as the 1500s gave way to the 1600s. Born not in medieval times but in an age of booming exploration and discovery, the order promoted missionary service. Its members didn’t take rooted posts as local parish priests. Not all of them were even priests. Brothers in this society trained themselves to provide any kind of Christian service anywhere, at any time, and if necessary to die as martyrs in foreign lands.
Catedral de São Paulo (Saint Paul’s Cathedral) in Macau illustrates the ideals of its builders. Built 1582-1602 with this façade added 1620-1627, the cathedral adjoined Asia’s first comprehensive university. The architects were Jesuits from Portugal; the sculptors were their fellow Christians from Japan. The images include motifs imported from Europe, such as this Christogram, as well as motifs familiar in traditional Asian art.
2014 © Alton Thompson 唐博敦
Endo based his missionaries in Silence on actual historical figures. They leave their native lands far behind in a quest that eventually brings them up against the bleakest realities of suffering. They now face troubling questions about the universality of any religion and about the nature and meaning of sacrifice. Prepared to lay down their lives for what what they love, they find—under the enormous, cunningly devised pressures placed upon them in Japan—that ‘laying down one’s life’ can take many forms.