But Samurai's still used sword guards with secret crucifixes and other symbols
The designs were uncovered in a study of ancient swords at a Japanese museum
Hundreds of killer Japanese Samurai may have been secret Christians who expressed their faith with codes hidden in their sword hilts, researchers have found.The deadly warriors were banned from following religions after feudal Japan introduced strict anti-Christian measures in the 16th century.
But the devout swordsmen commissioned metalsmiths to produce sword guards with crucifixes and other symbols skillfully hidden in their sacred weapons.
The designs were uncovered in a review of ancient Samurai swords at the The Sawada Miki Kinenkan museum in Kanagawa Prefecture, Japan. It is extremely rare to find sword guards with hidden Christian symbols used after the adoption of anti-Christian policies,' a museum spokesman said.
'The findings indicate that they kept their deep faith despite persecution.'
Catholic missionaries originally brought the religion to the East around the mid-1500s. But after 40 years it was banned by military ruler Hideyoshi Toyotomi, who exiled the European missionaries and tortured and killed many Japanese Christians in 1596.
Historians suggest that this was a response to the gradual expansion of European power in eastern Asia. Those Catholics that weren't wiped out by the purge formed an underground religious network.
They disguised images of Jesus and Mary to look like Buddhas, and changed their prayers to sound like Buddhist chants. And the museum's swords indicate that around 50 Japanese Samurais also committed themselves to a life of covert religious beliefs.
The museum owns 367 swords but has been reviewing the artifacts since November last year.
Historians conducted painstaking tests to estimate when the weapons were created based on factors such as their designs, materials and techniques used to produce them.
Yuhiko Nakanishi, chairman of nonprofit group Nihon Token Hozon Kai - a Japanese sword preservation association - said 48 sword hilts were identified as belonging to Christians.
The weapons with hidden Christian symbols were dated to the Sengoku (Warring States) period (1467-1568) and the 1600s after warlord Toyotomi Hideyoshi rolled out his anti-Christian policies.
They show crosses, crucifixes and religious symbols carefully concealed in the intricate designs.
Nakanishi added: 'A characteristic of sword guards made after anti-Christian measures were taken is that Christians carefully hid crosses in their designs.
'We concluded the designs show the faith of hidden Christians.'
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