The Martyrs of Japan

Publication History and Catholic Missions in the Spanish World (Spain, New Spain, and the Philippines, 1597–1700)


In The Martyrs of Japan, Rady Roldán-Figueroa examines the role that Catholic missionary orders played in the dissemination of accounts of Christian martyrdom in Japan. The work combines several historiographical approaches, including publication history, history of missions, and “new” institutional history. The author offers an overarching portrayal of the writing, printing, and circulation of books of ‘Japano-martyrology.’
The book is organized into two parts. The first part, “Spirituality of Writing, Publication History, and Japano-martyrology,” addresses topics ranging from the historical background of Christianity in Japan to the publishers of Japano-martyrology. The second part, “Jesuits, Discalced Franciscans, and the Production of Japano-martyrology in the Early Modern Spanish World,” features closer analysis of selected works of Japano-martyrology by Jesuit and Discalced Franciscan writers.

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Rady Roldán-Figueroa, Th.D. (2005, Boston University) is Associate Professor of the History of Christianity at that university. He is the author of The Ascetic Spirituality of Juan de Ávila (1499–1569) (Brill, 2010) and has published in leading European journals.
“Roldán-Figueroa explores their production, language context, and authors with a reference to the respective orders involved: The Jesuits, the Dominicans, and the Discalced Franciscans. Roldán-Figueroa stresses the fact that publishing was part of the missionary agenda in order to receive donations and in-kind contributions as well as preferential treatment by the European nobility. However, this was not the only aim: As he amply shows in Part Two of the volume, missionaries tended to portray the lives of martyrs as the culminating achievements of Christians who, being ready to sacrifice their lives, demonstrated their authentic faith. The heroism and zeal of Catholic missionaries, with their cult and veneration as saints, aimed at the recruiting of new missionaries.”

Marzia Alteno (University of Vienna), Religious Studies Review, vol. 47, num. 4, 2021, p. 560.

“ ...el libro es un trabajo de calidad que nos acerca a un mejor conocimiento de las políticas de publicación dirigidas por las órdenes religiosas a través de las relaciones de los autores con sus instituciones. Por tanto, es un destacado aporte historiográfico a la cultura intelectual del clero y a los horizontes planetarios en los que actuaron.”

Daniel Atienza-Atienza (Universidad Complutense de Madrid), Anuario de Historia de la Iglesia, vol. 31, 2022, pp. 671–672.

"Stressing the popularity of religious literature in Spain and its overseas possessions, Roldán-Figueroa argues that one cannot neatly dissect these texts into decontextualized parts to meet current research needs. One must focus on their religious character, because religious men were their primary authors. This self-evident conclusion is often overlooked, especially the fact that Jesuit and mendicant writers were deeply influenced by their orders' spiritual practices and institutional cultures. Roldán-Figueroa rightly links the many tasks and responsibilities of missionary offices to the very act of writing itself and hence the content and narrative structures of religious literature. A major strength of The Martyrs of Japan is Roldán-Figueroa's qualitative analysis of Japano-martyrological texts. Drawing primarily on the Laures Kirshita [sic. Kirishitan, rrf] Bunko Database, he identified 382 publications that referenced Christian martyrdom in Japan between 1598 and 1700 (numbered and organized by date in a separate bibliography). Based upon the available bibliographic data, Roldán-Figueroa found that members of the religious orders—especially the Jesuits— were the primary authors of these texts; that they were printed in seventy-eight cities in Europe, New Spain, and the Philippines; and that they were published in nine European languages, with Spanish, Italian, and French being the most predominant. Unlike the other mission histories where missionaries are early modern ethnographers or scientists, in The Martyrs of Japan they are administrators, editors, promoters, carriers of manuscripts, and book distributors."

Jason Dyck (University of Western Ontario), Journal of History (University of Toronto Press), vol. 57, issue 3 (December 2022), pp. 497–499.
All interested in the history of Christianity in Japan, Catholic missions, specifically the Society of Jesus, Discalced Franciscans, and Dominicans and anyone interested in the history of book publishing. Keywords: Japan, Spain, Philippines, New Spain, Catholic missions, Society of Jesus, Discalced Franciscans, Dominicans, martyrs, book publishing, “new” institutional history, spirituality of writing, translations, dissemination studies, the Spanish world.
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