How Did Fifth-Century Chant – ‘Te Deum Laudamus’ – Become the Battle Hymn of Japanese Martyrs?

►The “Te Deum” was an ancient hymn of praise to God. It began: “O GOD, WE PRAISE THEE: WE ACKNOWLEDGE THEE TO BE THE LORD!” According to legend, it was improvised antiphonally by St. Ambrose and St. Augustine at the latter’s baptism. It has more plausibly been attributed to Bishop Nicetas (d. 414 AD), bishop of Remesiana in present-day Serbia in the early fifth century.

It was the battle hymn of the “26 Martyrs of Nagasaki” (日本二十六聖人) as they walked barefoot in the snow – their left ears cut off, with some noses cut off too! — from Kyoto to their martyrdom in Nagasaki in Feb. 5, 1597 – along a scenic route of some 1,000 km passing through Sakai, Osaka, Hyogo, Akashi, Himeji, Okayama, Mihara, Hiroshima, Shimonoseki, Kokura, Shigashima, Hakata, Tokitsu, and finally, Nishizaka (Nagasaki) — which the martyrs (including the Manila Franciscan missionary, St. Pedro Bautista (of San Francisco del Monte, in Quezon City) covered in 27 days.

Every Takayama-era Japanese Catholic prepared for martyrdom by memorizing the first parts by heart – understanding each difficult Latin phrase and its meaning. This was the arrival hymn of praise to God that ‘Lord Justus Takayama and his 350 Companions’ sang at the Santa Ana Church inside the Jesuit Compound (now PLM University Campus), when the Japanese exiles arrived on Sunday, Dec. 21, 1614.◘

Dr. Ernesto A. de Pedro
Takayama Trustee

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