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Bombed Statue of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Nagasaki, Kyūshū, Japan

August 9, Nagasaki, Kyūshū, Japan

In 1571, the port of Nagasaki was established by Portuguese traders, Jesuit missionaries, and a wealthy convert, Omura Sumitada. Most of its inhabitants were Catholic. But in 1587, Japanese Nationalist Leader Toyotomi Hideyoshi banned missionaries. For the next three centuries, Nagasaki's Catholic community was repeatedly suppressed and persecuted. After the Japanese government revoked its ban on Christianity in 1873, many exiles returned to Nagasaki and began building a cathedral in the Urakami district under the direction of Father Pierre Fraineau of the Missions Etrangères de Paris. Consecrated in 1914, but not completed until 1925, the handmade brick cathedral was the largest Catholic church in Asia. In 1929, a wooden statue of the Immaculate Conception, carved in Italy after Murillo's painting in the Prado, was placed over the Altar.

On August 9, 1945, the U.S. Aircraft Bockscar dropped an Atomic Bomb that destroyed much of Nagasaki, killing over 70,000 people and leveling the cathedral while priests were hearing confessions. That fall, Trappist monk Kaemon Noguchi, a native of Urakami recently discharged from military service, found the blackened head of Our Lady's statue in the rubble and took it back to his monastery in Hokkaido. In 1975, he returned it to Nagasaki. The Virgin's head was on display at Junshin Women's College, the Urakami Cathedral Hall of the Believers, and the Atomic Bomb Museum before returning to the Cathedral -- rebuilt in 1959 -- where it has resided in its own chapel since 2000. A new chapel in the cathedral was dedicated August 9, 2005, on the 60th anniversary of the bombing.

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