Head of Madonna that survived
photo by Mr. Y. Sata
A: The Marian statue of Urakami is in fact the head of a Madonna statue that survived the Nagasaki atomic bomb. Located in the Urakami Catholic chapel, the statue was destroyed during the bombing and buried in the rubble. The blackened head was found by a recently discharged Japanese soldier who happened to be also a Trappist monk. Below is information taken from a pamphlet published in Japanese at the Urakami Cathedral.
The image of the Immaculate Conception used to lie on top of the altar, at the front of the old Urakami Cathedral that was destroyed in the atomic bombing of Nagasaki in World War II.
We have been told that the image came to Urakami Cathedral in the 1930s from Italy, being a carved wood carving. This image is based on the painting by the Spanish painter, Bartoleme Esteban Murillo (1618-1682) of the Immaculate Conception motif. It was painted and it stood two meters tall. At the time, a lot of people felt affection towards the image of Mary.
During the atomic bombing of Nagasaki, two priests and about thirty Roman Catholics were in the old Urakami Chapel for confession. The bomb killed these people and destroyed many holy tools, stone images and the image of the Immaculate Mary--all at the same time. That evening, a fire resulted because of the bomb which destroyed the Church, turning it into a pile of rubbish.
Father Kaemon Noguchi, a member of the Trappist Order, originally came from the Urakami area and he returned there after World War II, in October 1945. He visited the ruins of the cathedral and was shocked by what he saw, before he went back to the Trappist Monastery in Hokkaido (in the north of Japan). While he was looking around through the debris, by a miracle, he found the head of the image of Mary. He testified that crystal eyes were in the face of the "bombed" Mary when he found it.
Since then, Father Noguchi kept the "bombed" Mary in his own room in the Trappist Monastery where he prayed. He thought that the remains of the statue should go back to Urakami. So in 1975, the year of the thirtieth anniversary of the Bombing of Nagasaki, it was returned.
First of all, it was kept at Nagasaki Immaculate Heart Junior College. Then it went to Urakami Cathedral Hall of the Believers in 1990. It was displayed in the entrance of the lobby. Finally, since the autumn of 2000, it was laid down in a small chapel, in the right side of the cathedral where it has been revered by the people ever since.
In 1985, the "bombed" Mary was taken to Vatican City as part of an Atomic Bomb Exhibition. It was taken to Minsk City, Belarus in September, 2000 as a part of the Atomic Bomb pictures exhibition. It has caused consternation to people from all around the world by appealing for peace in all the miserable wars that happen on the Earth.
We offer also the following from "In praise of Furoshiki" by Fr. Takeshi Kawazoe, published by Seibo no Kishi Sha, 1994 [Translated by Atsuko Saisho at the request of Yasuhiko Sata]:
In the second year of the Heisei era (1990), my essay titled "Days in Urakami" appeared in the August edition of Seibo no Kishi Catholic Monthly. There I wrote that I was hoping to discover the name of the soldier who excavated the head of the statue of Virgin Mary destroyed and buried beneath rubble of atomic bombing [see left]. It was not long before I received a letter from the soldier himself who happened to read my essay. I would like to quote it in full, with the hope that the congregation of Urakami Catholic Church will always remember the divine guidance which he experienced some forty-five years ago.
Some of the liturgical objects of our church seem to have been taken away by American soldiers. It was fortunate indeed that the head of the statue of Our Lady, the holy guardian of our church was discovered by a priest from Urakami. I am still thinking if I should restore the statue to the original state respecting the discoverer, Father Noguchi's wish, or keep the head as it is as a token of the atomic tragedy. In either case, the decision will be made within the year. Finally, I would like to show my deepest appreciation to Father Noguchi.
Dear Father Kawazoe,
I apologize for my lack of courtesy to write to you a personal letter. I, Father Noguchi am a cloistered monk at Hokkaido Trappist Monastery.
The other day, I had an opportunity to read your article (which) appeared in the August issue of Seibo no Kishi Catholic Monthly about the holy head of the Virgin which had gone missing after the atomic bombing.
The head of Virgin Mary was discovered by a soldier who had just been discharged from military service overseas. In about the fifty-third year of the Showa-era (1978), he entrusted the head to Mr. Kataoka to return to Urakami Church. I wish I could know the soldier's name who discovered Our Lady under the rubble of bombing."
I have been debating, for some considerable time, whether or not I should inform you about the fact details of my discovery. When Bishop Matsunaga visited our monastery, I consulted him with my thoughts. The bishop recommended that I should write to you in person as you may not know that the soldier in question is myself. I have enjoyed the bishop's acquaintance for quite a long while.
I grew up in Urakami, Ishigami town (Yamanaka) and joined the Hokkaido Trappist Monastery in the fourth year of the Showa era (1929) and was ordained priest in the fourteenth year (1939). I must have been twelve or thirteen years of age when the statue of Virgin Mary arrived from Italy and was placed near the ceiling over the altar of the Urakami Cathedral. Her celestial beauty left a deep impression to my boyhood. I was then irresistibly attracted by the Madonna.
When I was to join the monastery in Hokkaido, I knelt down in front of the altar and prayed to bid my farewell ... "Dear Our Lady, I am going far north to the Trappist Monastery in Hokkaido, so this may be the last prayer I offer to you in this cathedral. But wherever I will be, may your protection and guidance be with me as ever." This memory never leaves me after all these years.
In April of the eighteenth year of the Showa era (1943) , I was called to arms and returned home in Nagasaki. I enlisted in the Kurume Regiment and was once discharged in January of the twentieth year of the Showa era (1945). Until when I found myself once again in the Omura Regiment in April, I helped Father Nishida and Father Tamaya at Urakami Church. The altar had been beautifully rebuilt by the time and the statue of Virgin Mary was housed at the center of the altar.
The war was over on the fifteenth day of August. I was sent home after being discharged in October. Before going back to Hokkaido, I wished to find a keepsake of the cathedral to bring with me. So I went to the ruins of the church and yet I found nothing but a heap of rubble. I searched about the destroyed altar and confessionals of Father Nishida and Father Tamaya for over one hour in vain. I tumbled onto a stone and prayed to Virgin Mary just like when I departed for the monastery as a boy. I was meant to return to Hokkaido soon. Praying for her guidance, I desperately looked for any broken pieces of liturgics which survived the bombing. Sadly, there was no sign of the cross or the holy statue of the Madonna. I prayed once again to Holy Mother to let me encounter anything at all associated to the church.
Some time passed ... I was praying silently. And all of a sudden, I saw the holy face of the Virgin blackened by fire, looking at me with a sorrowful air. I cried with joy. "Thank you, Our Lady Thank you!"
The destroyed torso might have been buried somewhere but I was too excited holding her head tightly in my arms to think about anything else. What a joy! It is inexplicable how I thanked the Holy Mother. I was half in a dream walking to the house embracing the head. My mother and elder brother were most delighted with my finding of the Virgin Mary. Mother was greatly impressed and praised me as if I was mere a boy. "My dear son, what a wonderful thing you've done! You must be blessed by Holy Mother. Take it with you to the monastery and offer your faithful prayers."
When Bishop Urakawa visited Trappist, I showed him the head of Madonna and explained to him how I had found it. "You have found the finest treasure indeed. If you had not discovered it, the Madonna would have got lost and most probably would have been disposed of like a piece of rubbish" he said.
It must have been in around the fiftieth year of the Showa era (1975). An article about the Madonna appeared on the Hokkaido Shimbun newspaper and it became well known to the public including the Urakami congregation that their Madonna had been found and kept by me. I began to feel guilty to treasure it myself as the statue by all means belonged to the Urakami church. Coincidentally, as a priest hailing from Urakami, I was invited to the thirtieth anniversary of the Nagasaki atomic bombing held at Urakami Catholic Church. With the permission of the abbot of our monastery, I brought with the holy head of the Virgin Mary to Nagasaki with me and entrusted it to Mr. Kataoka to return to the church.
At the time of leaving, Father Toyoaki Ozaki from the Knights of Our Lady kindly took a photograph of me beside the Madonna to which I offer my prayers to this day.
Dear Father, ever since the statue was first placed in the cathedral, I have been deeply attached to the Madonna. Even after cloistering myself, I never failed to offer prayers to her. And I believe she also remembered me. Holy Mother has always been there to protect and guide me. She even trusted this humble priest in such a horrible disaster and allowed me to hold her holy head in my arms. For some thirty years, I had prayed to the holy statue on the desk in my cell. Even now, I see her burnt face vividly in my mind especially when singing the Lady psalms.
Dear Father, forty-five years have passed since I found the statue. I wish my poor writing could give you a certain account of my fated encounter with the Holy Mother. If it is ever possible, it would be my greatest pleasure to see the Madonna restored to her original state. Please place her upon the altar. So does she wish, I believe.
May our prayers to the Holy Mother reach all beings in the world!
Hokkaido Trappist Monastery
I was surprised to see how beautiful the Head of Madonna that survived the Nagasaki atomic bomb is. Really beautiful. I thought she would look grotesque. Just beautiful!
Quick, someone call the ACLU I am offended by this!!!!
As a American and a Catholic I’m offended by this. Given the Japanese habit of subtlety to me the implied message here is that the Christian West(Americans) destroyed even the image of their own deities. At least to me this is what it seems. In any event I’m one American who is beyond fed up with listen to the Japs go on about the terrible atomic bombings as if America struck out of the blue for no could reason. I’ve had numerous arguments with people over this and have almost come to blows over it. The japanese were barbarinas in what they did in WW2 and they started a war with America and lost. If the out come had been different, if Japan had won the war you can be sure that the Japanese wouldn’t be sitting around saying to themselves “Gee, that was a terrible thing we did to the Americans, we shouldn’t have done that’’. We be getting our teeth smashed in with a rifle butt for the ‘’honor’’ of being a slave to the Emporer.