A letter of appreciation sent by Japanese Catholics to Pope Paul V during the early Edo Period, almost a century after the Jesuits first arrived to Japan, has just been found in Florence. According to the note published by the Asahi Shimbun, it is the first discovery of its kind.
The missive, the note goes, was sent in reply to a letter from Pope Paul V, whose papacy started in 1605 and ended 1621. In his text, the Pope offered encouragement to Japanese Catholics, who were being persecuted by feudal authorities at the time.
Fr. Shinzo Kawamura, a Jesuit priest and professor of history at Sophia University in Tokyo, discovered the letter based on information provided by Timon Screech, a history professor at the International Research Center for Japanese Studies in Kyoto.
The Asahi Shimbun explains that “similar appreciative notes were delivered between 1620 and 1621 from five areas across Japan […] They are kept at the Vatican Apostolic Library.” What makes this letter unique is that it was found not in the Vatican, but at a Dominican convent’s library that belongs to a church in Florence.
Two copies of the same letter are stored at the Vatican, numbered “second” and “third” (in Latin). The letter found in Florence is numbered “first” instead, which leads Kawamura to think that “the one at Florence is very likely the original letter.”