Saint Marina of Omura is depicted as a lady in lay Dominican garb clutching a crucifix to her breast and standing atop a crown of flames. A more popular stampita (holy card) shows her in a traditional Japanese kimono, her hands together in prayer and a palm branch symbolizing her martyrdom. My artwork is mostly based on the latter. I added the blazing flame as it was the instrument of her martyrdom and a picture of the Dominican logo tucked silently in her hands. This particular icon may be confused with the Dominican depiction of St Magdalene of Nagasaki.
The first Japanese woman, along with St. Magdalene of Nagasaki, to be added to the canon of saints of the Roman Catholic Church. She was regarded as "the most valiant woman of Japan."
Her Dominican biographers claim that she was born in the first decade of the 17th century in the city of Omura (then, a mere fief, i.e. a parcel of land granted by a feudal lord to somebody in return for the latter's service), located in the Nagasaki Prefecture (equivalent to a province), which is located at the northwestern part of the island of Kyushu, at the far west end of Japan; from the Middle Ages until the 19th century, Omura was the center of the territory ruled by the Omura family after whom such place was named; with the arrival of the Portuguese – the first westerners to have come to Japan – in 1543, Kyushu and the land particularly controlled by the Omura clan flourished; a member of such clan was Sumitada Omura who became the first Christian Daimyo (Japanese feudal lord) after being converted to Christianity, and was referred to as “Bartolomeo” in several European documents.
Known as a model of virtuous living and described by her biographers as a good example for all Christians of Omura. She was sought by persons who were close to having their faith tested and who needed to recover their courage and strength. She welcomed her fellow Japanese Christians (called "Kirishitan") to her home as their refuge, where their faith was celebrated, nourished and strengthened. She became a lay Dominican either in 1625 or 1626, following the advice of her spiritual director, Bl Luis Beltran of Barcelona (a Spanish Dominican friar & missionary in Omura, burned alive on July 29, 1627 & beatified on July 7, 1867 by Pope Pius IX; not to be confused with his elder blood relative & patron saint, St Luis Beltran of Valencia, also a Dominican friar)
In 1634, when the Japanese shogunal government became aware of her help in furthering the missionary apostolate, arrested & they imprisoned her for her faith in 1634 together with other Christians. During interrogation before the tribunal in Omura, she confessed that “she was a Christian and that she had used her house to give hospitality to missionaries and Christians.” Asked if prepared to suffer torture, she answered without hesitation that, with the grace of God, she was determined to do so, and added that, on account of her consecration to God through her vow of chastity, her body and her soul were clean and were the abode of the Holy Spirit.
Although the judges were not fully aware of what such declarations meant, they decided to torture her in a way that would hurt and humiliate her the most. She was subjected to public humiliation by being paraded completely naked through the villages of Omura, with her hands tied behind her back. Like the virgins of the early Church, she suffered patiently such shameful ordeal without weakening as she strongly believed that her body was the dwelling place of God and that nothing could stain it. After being returned to her prison, she was informed of her planned transfer to the city of Nagasaki where she was sentenced by the shogunal authorities to die by burning. In the city of Nagasaki, she was then made to take part in a “march of death” with other Christians, including St Jacinto Jordan Ansalone de San Esteban, St Thomas Hioji Rokuzayemon Nishi de San Jacinto de Hirado and St Magdalene of Nagasaki.
Upon reaching the Nishizaka hill, she prayed for and encouraged her fellow Christians in the hope that they would soon be in heaven with eternal peace and joy. She was then tied to a stake and surrounded with wood that was to burn her to death slowly. While being consumed by fire, she prayed constantly, not forgetting to ask pardon for her executioners.
She died on November 11, 1634 in Nishizaka hill, Nagasaki, Japan, together with other Christians and just like the other martyrs, her ashes were scattered at the bay of Nagasaki to prevent Christians from securing her relics.
She was beatified together with 15 other companion martyrs of Japan of 1633, 1634 & 1637 (belonging to various nationalities; led by St Lorenzo Ruiz of Manila; all linked in various ways with the Dominican family) by St Pope John Paul II on February 18, 1981 in Rizal Park, Manila, Philippines and canonized with the same group of martyrs by Pope John Paul II on October 18, 1987 in Saint Peter’s Square, Vatican City.
The faith first came to the Japanese through St Francis Xavier, who landed in Kagoshima on 15th August 1549. His ministry in Japan lasted only two years and three months, but he left a foundation upon which others were to build. Other Jesuits followed him, then later Franciscans, Dominicans, Augustinians; together they saw the Catholics reach a total of 300,000, out of a population of about twenty million by 1614.
This general period has been called the "Christian century of Japan." In many ways it was one of the most remarkable periods of Church growth in Asia. Many Japanese accepted the faith with deep conviction and lived it with dedication.
During these years of growth, however, opposition also grew from various religious leaders and government rulers. Persecution became persecution in every sense of the word. From 1597 to 1637 many Japanese were put to death after cruel punishment. What is more to be observed is that the punishments grew more savage as the years went by, because many Japanese Christians, far from being intimidated by the first deaths, became more bold in wanting to die for Christ. From that time on the government officials and soldiers planned that Christians should deny their faith; instead of simple executions, as beheading, they prolonged the agony through days and days, hoping thus to weaken the will of the Christians and to discourage others from following in their footsteps.
As a result of this long period, Japan can glory in 29 canonized saints and 158 blesseds. They can be divided into three groups: (1) the 29 saints who were crucified in 1597; (2) the 158 blessed martyred in various ways between 1617 and 1632; (3) the 9 Japanese saints killed between 1633 and 1637. Saint Marina of Omura belongs to the third group. She was around 25 years old when on 17th of November 1634 she was burnt alive.