Churches in Motomachi/元町の教会群

Hakodate is one of the most famous domestic tourist sites. One of its attractions is a district called Western Area with churches. There are three different churches in an area of five minute-walk. They are Russian Orthodox Church, Anglican Church and Motomachi Catholic Church. How many tourists notice this rareness? There is no other part like here. Most tourists coming to Hakodate visit this area to feel exoticism of the city visiting those churches one after another and enjoy three different appearances. However, once you know the historical background, your visit will be more rewarding and fascinating.
churches in Motomachi

Here we want to review the history of Christianity. Christianity began with the birth of Jesus Christ. Christian Era, or Western calendar puts its starting point on the Jesus’ birth year. We are in 2006 now and it means 2006 years have passed since Jesus was born. Jesus taught love for friends and spread his idea that god saves all people. After his death, his thought was spread by the apostles such as John and Paul. The thought was called Catholic, which means universal. Catholic teachings are taught through churches. This is a notable character of Catholicism. Its leader is the Pope. Imagine the literacy rate of ordinary people from the birth of Jesus to the medieval era, or to the 15th or 16th centuries. The rate shouldn’t be so high. That is, churches were the sole media to know the teaching of Jesus. People had to rely on people who studied theology. It also means the concentration of power. Gaining power, Catholic churches gained money, too. Consequently, it ended in corruption. When the Pope’s power was at its peak, any kings couldn’t match him.

Churches’ corruption was followed by reform. Luther was one of the first reformers. He aroused controversy saying “All Jesus said was written in the Bible. But look at what churches are teaching and doing!” This was the beginning of the Reformation. Japanese schools teach students to call catholic as Old Religion and newly formed religions as New Religion after the Reformation. The New Religion means three religions; Lutheranism, Calvinism and Anglicanism.
Lutherans are people who follows the teachings of Luther, while Calvinists are people who follows the teachings of Calvin. Then, what is Anglicanism?

Anglicanism was established by an English king, Henry VIII and the establishment was related to his divorce with his wife. He was a catholic at first. In Catholicism, marriage is one of the important rituals. The king wanted to have a son as his successor. He might say, “Present wife doesn’t have a boy baby. I divorce myself from present wife and get married with another!” He asked the Pope for permission, but the Pope didn’t give permission. The king exploded in anger and broke off relations with the Roman Catholic Church. Then he declared all the Catholic churches in England, “The leader of you is no longer the Pope but me, the king of England.” This is the beginning of Anglicanism.

The Reformation divided Christianity into two big streams. One is Old Religion and the other is New Religion. However, there was another separation before the Reformation. It was a divergence between the Catholic Church and the Eastern Orthodox Church.

Teachings of Jesus Christ was spread by his disciples. Remember the time when Christ was born. It was Roman period. At that time, Roman empire dominated the territory that covered the Mediterranean Sea and almost whole land of Europe. At first, the teaching of Jesus was unacceptable for Roman emperors and Christians were persecuted by the emperors such as Nero. However, the number of Christians increased more and more. Finally an emperor decided to make Christianity the state religion and used it to dominate the empire. Later the empire established five large churches as headquarters. Two of them were counterparts of the first big separation of Christianity. They are the one in Rome in the West and the other in Istanbul in the East.

The first separation related to the divsion of the Roman Empire. Too large territory is difficult to rule over. The emperor Theodosium, who decided Christianity the state religion, gave his two son the land divided into two. They were Western and Eastern Roman Empires. Rome was located in the land of Western empire and Istanbul was in Eastern one.

Soon after the division of the Roman Empire, the Western empire fell. Because of the Migration. Germans and other tribes moved into the Imperial territory. Churches in the territory of the Western Roman Empire lost patronage of the emperor, but they found another way. It was teaching of Christianity to Germans. Churches in the lost Western Roman territory used statues to teach Germans. Because the Germans originally worshiped those statues of gods, churches took advantage of using their habit.

By the way, do you know the movie whose title is “Ten Commandments”? It filmed the Exodus of Moses. He received ten commandments from God. One among them prohibits the worship of idols. Christianity as well as Islam prohibits to worship any idols of god.

Churches left in the lost Western Imperial territory ignored(?) the commandment and used statues of god in teaching Christianity to survive. It was Churches in the Eastern Roman Empire that were surprised at the movement. “Oh, no! What are you doing? No way!” Churches in the east criticized the ones in west. It caused the division of Christian church. Churches in the Eastern Roman Empire came to be called the Eastern Orthodox Church. The Eastern Roman Empire succeeded Greek culture and it came to be called the Byzantine Empire. It lasted until the mid 15th century with its capital in Istanbul. This empire was fallen by Osmanli Turks, an Islamic country. Later, the Eastern Orthodox was succeeded to a Russian Emperor who got married to a sister of the Byzantine emperor.

In Hakodate, there are Motomachi Catholic Church, Anglican church and Russian Orthodox Church. They are historically different from each other but in this city they are located in vicinity really. Why don’t you visit these churches thinking about mentioned history of Christianity?

By the way, the Russian Orthodox Church which is descended from the Eastern Orthodox Church has no statues of god inside. Instead, there are tableaus called ikon and they are used to teach the thought of Jesus. Look at those pictures carefully. You can find Chinese characters on the surface. One of them says “Image of Mary” but the letters are somewhat strange for the Japanese. Those ikons and Chinese characters seems to have been drawn by Russian artists. It was because to teach Christianity to Japanese. It may be a feature when you visit there.













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