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Luis Sotelo (September 6, 1574 -1624), was a Franciscan friar who died as a martyr in Japan, in 1624, and was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1867.

Sotelo was born in Sevillamarker, Spainmarker, and studied at the University of Salamancamarker before entering the convent of "Calvario de los Hermanos Menores". He was sent, in 1600, to the Philippinesmarker, in order to take on the spiritual needs of the Japanese settlement of Dilaomarker, until it was destroyed by Spanish forces, in 1608, after intense fighting.

In 1608, Pope Paul V authorized minor religious orders (Dominicans and Franciscans) to proselytize in Japan, heretofore the preserve of the Jesuits. Sotelo immediately went to Japan and took a leading role there.

Proselytism in Edo

Sotelo then went to Japan where he tried to establish a Franciscan church in the area of Tokyomarker. The church was destroyed, in 1612, following the interdiction of Christianity in the territories of the Tokugawa shogunate on April 21, 1612 (the prohibition edicts were a reaction to a bribery scandal between a close collaborator of the Shogun, Okamoto Daihachi, and the Christian daimyo Arima Harunobu).

Sotelo fled to the northern part of Japan, in the area controlled by the daimyo of Sendai, Date Masamune, under whom Christianity was still tolerated. He came back to Tokyo the following year and constructed and inaugurated a new church on May 12, 1613, in the area of Asakusamarker Torigoe. The Bakufu reacted by arresting the Christians, and Sotelo himself was put in the Kodenma-chō (小伝馬町) prison. Seven fellow Japanese Christians, who had been arrested with Sotelo, were executed on July 1, but Sotelo was freed following a special request by Date Masamune.

Embassy project

Sotelo planned and accompanied a Japanese embassy sent by Date Masamune to Spain in 1613. The embassy was headed by Hasekura Tsunenaga, and crossed the Pacific onboard the Japanese-built galleon San Juan Bautistamarker. He had the Japanese receive baptism in Madridmarker, before accompanying them to see Pope Paul V in Romemarker.
The embassy was a product of political ambitions of Sotelo and Date Masamune. Sotelo tried to establish a diocese on Northern Japan that was to be independent from the Jesuits-controlled diocese of Funai (Nagasaki). His campaign was obstructed by the Portuguese and even failed to gain wide support from the Franciscans because it was linked with his personal ambition for the bishop's post. Date Masamune wanted to trade with Nueva España (Mexicomarker), but it soon became apparent that the trade was too costly.

Sotelo accompanied the Japanese embassy back to the Philippines, in 1618, where he remained for some time, because Christianity was being harshly repressed in Japan. He got into trouble from the Church, because he had oversold his achievements in Japan. However, the Catholic Council of the Indies sent him back to Nueva España, in 1620, to pursue his missionary activities there.

Martyrdom in Japan

Sotelo finally managed to infiltrate Japan, in 1622, on-board a Chinese junk, after which he was discovered and imprisoned. After two years in prison, Luis Sotelo was burnt alive, together with two Franciscans, a Jesuit, and a Dominican, at the age of 50.

He was beatified by Pope Pius IX in 1867.


  • “The Christian century in Japan 1549-1650” C.R. Boxer ISBN 1-85754-035-2

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