The Project

Inception of the Marega Project

After arriving in Japan in December 1929, while working as a missionary, Father Marega endeavored to collect and study historical documents related to Christianity from the Bungo region, publishing Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō (Historical Documents Regarding Bungo Christians) in 1942 and Zoku Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō (Historical Documents Regarding Bungo Christians, Volume II) in 1946. Although many people knew about these publications, the whereabouts of the original documents on which the work was based remained unknown for many years.

In 2011, a collection of documents was discovered in the Vatican Library that accurately constituted as the basis for the two volumes of Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō. As many as 10,000 other items were also discovered, containing new documents not included in the collection, as well as Father Marega’s own manuscripts and notes.

Following this discovery, the Vatican Library invited scholars in Japan to work on a joint survey of the collection, and in 2012, an on-site investigation was conducted by the Ōita Prefecture Ancient Sages Historical Archives. In November 2013, the Vatican Library and the National Institutes for the Humanities in Japan concluded an agreement to work together to investigate the collection. The National Institutes for the Humanities has positioned this survey as part of a research project on overseas materials related to Japan, and has established a joint research group for “Comprehensive Research on Historical Materials Collected by Fr. Mario Marega Held by Vatican Library” (principal investigator: Kazuo Ōtomo). Further to this, activities officially commenced in the Marega Project—a collaboration between librarians at the Vatican Library, institutions in Japan, and researchers from Japan and overseas. The main Japanese institutions involved in the project are the National Institutes for the Humanities as the lead institution, the National Museum of Japanese History, the Historiographical Institute of the University of Tokyo, and the Ōita Prefecture Ancient Sages Historical Archives. Activities continued until the academic year 2021, and all materials have been made freely available to the public in an image database (“Marega Collection Database”) following the restoration of deteriorated materials, digital photography, and cataloging.

What Are the Marega Collection?

Father Marega published two volumes of historical documents, Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō (1942) and Zoku Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō (1946), which brought together “ancient documents” (komonjo) related to the suppression and control of Christians in Bungo Province. Although the Marega Collection mainly contains these original documents, more than 10,000 new documents that were not included in this collection have also been discovered in the Vatican. Moreover, manuscripts and notes handwritten by Father Marega were found, indicating how he organized and studied the historical materials that he collected in Ōita during the process of compiling the collection. The survey has revealed that the Marega Collection was sent from Japan to the Vatican Library by Father Marega for safekeeping in 1953, where it has since remained. After the discovery in 2011, the mass of documents was organized into separate storage bags, numbered A1–A21, in a manner that reflected the state of the materials. Due to subsequent discoveries at various locations in the Vatican and a transfer of materials from the Salesian University, the collection was later extended up to A26.

It is also worth noting that the old books and classical documents that Father Marega collected in the course of his Japanese studies are currently kept at the Salesian University in Rome. A “Catalog of Japanese Texts and Documents in the Mario Marega Collections, Salesian University, Rome” has already been published by the Academic Materials Division of the National Institutes for the Humanities. The investigation revealed a large number of ancient documents, including some Christian-related historical materials, as well as some old photographs of Father Marega. The Marega Project has also led to the conclusion of an agreement with the Salesian University to conduct research on the Marega Collection, and we have been investigating the history of Father Marega’s research on historical materials and study in Japan.

Research System

The Marega Project centered on five main activities: (1) a general survey of the documents; (2) working with the Vatican Library to preserve and manage documents and develop a system for public access; (3) cataloging all documents; (4) making the image database publicly available on the web through photographic reproduction of all documents; and (5) conducting basic research on Father Marega and his collection of documents to establish an academic information base for research on Christianity in Japan and historical relations between Japan and Europe.

To implement these activities, in the academic year 2013, we established a survey/research system with the following roles:

Lead Institution and Project Director

  • Lead institution: National Institutes for the Humanities
  • Project director: Professor Kazuo Ōtomo

Collaborating Institutions and Assigned Tasks

  • Research (A): International Collaboration Study Relating to Preservation and Management of the Mario Marega’s Collection Through General Survey and Investigation
    Principal investigator: Associate Professor Mutsumi Aoki
    Target institutions, etc.: The Vatican Library, others
  • Research (B): Research on the Digitization of the Marega Collection and Development of a System for Public Access
    Principal investigator: Associate Professor Naohiro Ōta
    Target institutions, etc.: The Vatican Library, others
  • Research (C): Basic Research on Cataloging the Marega Collection and Cataloging Work
    Principal investigator: Akihiro Satō (Director of Ōita Prefecture Ancient Sages Historical Archives)
    Target institutions, etc.: The Vatican Library, others
  • Research (D): Research on Mario Marega
    Principal investigator: Silvio Vita (Kyoto University of Foreign Studies)
    Target institutions, etc.: The Vatican Library, others
  • Research (E): Research on Christian Materials and Christians in Japan
    Principal investigator: Professor Yōko Matsui (Historiographical Institute, The University of Tokyo)
    Target institutions, etc.: The Vatican Library, Ōita Prefecture Ancient Sages Historical Archives, Usuki City Museum of History, others

Introduction of Documents

What surprised the participants during the general survey at the Vatican Library was the discovery and quality of the many historical documents that were not included in the two volumes of Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō (Historical Documents Regarding Bungo Christians). The materials retained traces of Father Marega’s own arrangement and study in the form of numbering, written insertions, and interleaving of notes and manuscripts, indicating that he had studied a vast number of historical materials and carefully selected those to be included. Moreover, the abundance of materials that were not included in the Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō publications are expected to greatly contribute to future research on early modern history and Christianity, including research on the prohibition of Christianity and archival research on feudal lords (daimyō).

For example, research to date based on Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō (Volumes I and II) has identified several important epochs in the prohibition of Christianity in Usuki Domain, Bungo Province. Specifically, the introduction of the e-fumi practice, in which people were required to step on images of Christian icons (fumi-e) to prove that they were not Christian, in 1634; submission of oath documents titled Kirishitan shūmon oaratame ni tsuki gokishōmon maegaki no koto (Opening statement to the oath concerning the investigation on the sect of Christians) by individual households in 1635; and the creation of Kirishitan shūmon oaratame no on-chō (Registers for investigations on Christians) based on these documents have been positioned as the beginning of a regime of prohibition that reached every corner of the region. Only one of these apostasy oaths was introduced in Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō; moreover, it was analyzed quantitatively in the commentary and introduced as an example of the history of anti-Christian control measures. Along with a large number of these apostasy oaths, the recent survey also revealed the highly distinctive way in which documents were managed by the domain authorities. By way of these apostasy oaths, village residents pledged their affiliation to a temple at the household level, as Buddhists rather than Christians, using pieces of paper undersigned by their “temple of affiliation” (dannadera). However, the large number of apostasy oaths discovered in the recent survey was pasted continuously (probably at the village level), some measuring as long as 24 meters. Although previous research had shown that information related to the apostasy oaths was arranged by the domain authorities, and that Kirishitan shūmon oaratame no on-chō (Registers for investigations on Christians) were created, this survey revealed that the original oaths were pasted continuously, stored in scroll form, and kept until the end of the Edo period.

This discovery of materials not only provide a clear record of the actual circumstances regarding the control of Christians at that time—of which Bungo Kirishitan Shiryō offered only a fragmentary glimpse—but is also extremely important in demonstrating how the Usuki Domain managed records (archives) related to the control of Christians.

Survey of Materials

Steps in the General Survey and Digitization Work

Click on each item to open a new window and view more details (*click to open image)

  1. Preliminary survey
  2. Unpacking/recording current state, document numbering
  3. General description
  4. Final confirmation of the description
  5. Conservation treatment
  6. Digitization work
  7. Catalog description
  8. Database construction / publication

Main Surveys in the Marega Project

AY 2012
Period March 11 (Mon.)–March 14 (Thu.), 2013
Location The Vatican Library
Discussions and meetings Japan Foundation Japanese Cultural Institute in Rome (hereafter referred to as the “Japanese Cultural Institute in Rome”), Embassy of Japan in the Vatican
AY 2013
Period September 16 (Mon.)–September 20 (Fri.), 2013
Location The Vatican Library
AY 2014
Period June 10 (Tue.)–June 13 (Fri.), 2014
Location The Vatican Library
Period September 8 (Mon.)–September 26 (Fri.), 2014
Location The Vatican Library
Period February 9 (Mon.)–February 13 (Fri.), 2015
Location The Vatican Library
AY 2015
Period September 7 (Mon.)–September 18 (Fri.), 2015
Location The Vatican Library
Period February 8 (Mon.)–February 12 (Fri.), 2016
Location The Vatican Library (Feb. 8–10, 12)
Salesian Pontifical University (hereinafter “Salesian University”) (Feb. 11)
AY 2016
Period February 6 (Mon.)–February 9 (Thu.), 2017
Location The Vatican Library, Salesian University

AY 2017
Period October 24 (Tue.)–October 31 (Tue.), 2017
Location The Vatican Library, Salesian University
Period February 12 (Mon.)–February 17 (Sat.), 2018
Location Scuola Grande di San Rocco, Archivio di Stato di Venezia (Feb. 13–15)
Soprintendenza Archivistica Toscana, Scuola Grande della Santa Maria della Misericordia(Feb. 16)
AY 2018
Period December 13 (Thu.)–December 22 (Sat.), 2018
Location The Sapienza University of Rome (hereinafter the “University of Rome”) (Dec. 14 & 15)
The Vatican Library (Dec. 17)
University of Naples “L'Orientale” (hereinafter the “Orientale University”) (Dec. 18 & 19)
Salesian University (Dec. 20 & 21)
Period February 28 (Wed.)–March 4 (Mon.), 2019
Location Salesian University (Feb. 28 & Mar. 1)
University of Rome (Mar. 2 & 4)
AY 2019
Period December 10 (Tue.)–December 14 (Sat.), 2019
Location University of Rome (Dec. 10, 11, & 14)
Salesian University (Dec. 12 & 13)
Period February 16 (Sun.)–February 24 (Mon.), 2020
Location he Vatican Library (Feb. 17)
Vatican Ethnological Museum (Feb. 18 & 19)
Don Bosco Ethnological Missionary Museum (Feb. 20)
Don Bosco Ethnological Missionary Museum (Feb. 21)
Braidense National Library (Feb. 22)