Bernard Thadee Petitjean (ベルナール・プティジャン)

Bernard Thadee Petitjean (born June 14,1829; died October 7, 1884) was a Roman Catholic priest from France. He came to Japan as a member of La Societe des Missions Etrangeres de Paris, and devoted the later part of his life to missionary activities in Japan. He became famous for being present at the 'discovery of the Hidden Christians' (discovery of believers in the Christian faith) of the Ouratenshu-do (Oura church).


The French born Petitjean was ordained as a priest in 1854. He entered the La Societe des Missions Etrangeres de Paris, and desired to become a missionary to Japan. At that time, because it was difficult for foreigners to enter Japan, he journeyed to Naha City in Ryukyu, and studied Japanese language and culture. He was able to enter Yokohama in 1862, and embarked to Nagasaki the following year. His duties entailed being the priest for French people who were residing in the foreign settlement of Oura. Later, on the basis of the treaty of commerce between France and Japan, Petitjean was permitted to build a church for French residents on a hill overlooking Nishizaka in Nagasaki (the martyrdom square of twenty-six saints of Japan). The church he built is the Ouratenshu-do (Oura church).

Father Petitjean was appointed as the Bishop for Japan in 1868. With the revocation of the prohibition against Christianity in 1873, making Nagasaki his base, he devoted his energies to forming congregations of Christians, establishing facitilities for Japanese believers, and cultivating Japanese priests, as well as translating various scriptures and documents of religious doctrine into Japanese. He died in Oura in 1884, and his grave is in the precincts of the Ouratenshu-do (Oura church).

Recovering a Christian

Because the Ouratenshu-do (Oura church) was a western style building, and very rare in its day, it became well known, and Japanese living nearby would visit the strange edifice for sightseeing, calling it the "France Temple" or "Nanban-ji Temple" (European Temple). Petitjean would welcome the visitors, opening up the church and allowing them to look around freely.

There was a reason why Petitjean opened up the church he had originally built for residents from France to the Japanese who came visiting just for entertainment. Because Nagasaki was an area where Christians had been martyred, the priest えexpected that there might be hidden believers in Christianity, or that he might discover a believer among the Japanese visitors.

One day when Petitjean was about to attend to some gardening, on March 17, 1865, a group of about fifteen men and women visitors were having a difficult time trying to figure out how to open the door to the church. Once Petitjean had opened the door and invited the group inside, they walked around the inside of the church in a single file.
When Petitjean was praying before the altar, a woman in the group named Yuri SUGIMOTO knelt before the priest and said in a whisper, 'We are of the same faith as you.'
These were a group of hidden Christians from Urakami who had been keeping their faith in secret for nearly 300 years. Petitjean was surprised, and happy to see them.

Petitjean dispatched news of the circumstances to Europe, and it became big news. Thereafter a continuous flow of people from different parts of Nagasaki appeared and proclaimed themselves to be Christians. Pretending to be giving the group a tour of the church, father Petitjean would conduct a mass for the visitors in secret. However, as more and more believers appeared who were openly expressing their belief in Christianity, they were persecuted and supressed under the anti-Christian policies of the Edo shogunate government that had been continued by the Meiji government (for more details, see the entry on the fourth arrest of Christians of 1867). However, when Petitjean discovered the Christians, the information regarding oppressive actions of the Meiji government toward Christians mobilized Western governments to pressure the Japanese government about policies supressing Christianity, which lead to the rehabillitation of Christianity, which had been prohibited since the Edo Period.

[Original Japanese]