A Case for Canonization: Hosokawa Gracia

Study for “Garasha Hosokawa”, Wall Painting in Tamatsukuri Cathedral, Ōsaka by Domoto Insho, 1962

In the eyes of the Catholic Church, all Christians are called to be saints. Despite this, only a select few ever receive the title. Recently, I have managed to get a copy of Two Japanese Christian Heroes by Johannes Laures, S.J., which is a mini biography on two of Japan’s most well known Christian converts: Takayama Ukon and Hosokawa Gracia. While Takayama Ukon was beatified by Pope Francis in Ōsaka on February 7, 2017, Gracia has not been brought up for discussion for the same honor. I believe that Gracia should be considered for sainthood, due to her love of her faith and her martyrdom.

The Life of Gracia

Gracia’s official artwork for Samurai Warriors 4

Hosokawa Gracia was born Akechi Tama (or Tamako) in 1563, the third daughter to Akechi Mitsuhide. She was a beautiful and intelligent woman who loved to learn and was not satisfied with half hearted answers. On top of this, she was an extremely independent woman who had a melancholic disposition.(1) She was married off to Hosokawa Tadaoki at around fifteen or sixteen years of age, and during their marriage, they had about five or six children. Trouble began for Tamako when her father betrayed Oda Nobunaga at Honnōji on June 21, 1582.

Tamako was labeled as a “traitor’s daughter” which meant she could cause problems for the Hosokawa clan, who though they remained loyal to the Oda, they were related to the Akechi via marriage. Yet, Tadaoki did not want to divorce Tamako, so she was sent into exile where she remained for two years. Even when she got the word of her father’s death, she refused to commit seppuku, for she was to follow her husband’s orders now. When Hideyoshi learned a couple years later that Tadaoki’s wife was in exile and learned of her familial relations, instead of making enemies and ordering her to die, he told Tadaoki to bring his wife back from the mountains, but only on one condition: that they would stay in Ōsaka. Tadaoki agreed and reunited with Tamako in 1584.(2)

Tadaoki was unsure of their stay in Ōsaka. Hideyoshi was a known womanizer and he feared that Hideyoshi would try to get to his wife somehow. She was invited to visit Hideyoshi once, but after a dagger had just so happened to slip out from her bosom while bowing to him, Hideyoshi took the hint and never called her back.(3) This was enough for Tadaoki to put her under house arrest, unfortunately, thus recreating her situation in the mountains right in the middle of Ōsaka.

During this time, Tadaoki had became close friends with Takayama Ukon, who spoke of Christianity and who was a Christian convert himself. While Tadaoki showed no interest in converting, he still told Tamako about this new religion in the land. For Tamako, her life made sense after hearing about the Word of God and that her suffering in life had a purpose. She wanted to learn more, but being confined to the mansion kept her from going out and visiting the church that was in Ōsaka. Tamako would get her chance, however, when Tadaoki joined the Toyotomi forces in Kyūshū in 1587. She snuck out the house during the celebration of the Buddha’s birthday, which happened to be the same day as Easter that year. She managed to get to the church where she was further educated by Father Cespedes and Brother Cosme. After hearing all she needed to hear, Tamako asked to be baptized. The problem came with her not wanting to say who she was. The religious men, fearing that they would accidentally baptize one of Hideyoshi’s concubines, denied her request, and Tamako went home before anyone could tell that she was missing.(4)

Tamako would get her chance at becoming Christian right around the time Hideyoshi decided to ban Christianity for the first time.(5) By the summer, Hideyoshi’s attitudes towards the Christians had soured and in July 1587, had signed an edict ordering all missionaries to leave Japan in twenty days. Still under house arrest, Tamako feared that she had lost her chance, however, the missionaries taught her converted servant, Maria, how to perform a baptism on their behalf. Tamako was baptized by Maria in secret within their home in Ōsaka and was given the baptismal name of Gracia.(6)

There is conflicting information regarding Tadaoki’s treatment of Gracia during this time. Of course, he did not know for a while, but did suspect, that his wife was a Christian convert, but some sources paint a picture of passive aggressiveness which has probably been mistaken as fear. After all, he had managed to keep his wife around, despite custom dictating that she should have committed seppuku not long after her father’s demise. Was he a bit overbearing and overprotective? Yes, but this fear was no longer from Hideyoshi’s womanizing eyes. If the fact that his wife was a Christian convert became public, it would mean the death of him and his wife and children, three of whom had been baptized as well. Perhaps his hostilities towards Christians, including the banishment of the house servants who were Christian, was more of a smoke screen to protect the wife he loved so dearly. Author speculation here, but I feel like it is a valid point to bring up.(7)

Problems arose for Gracia once again when Tadaoki was being investigated for his ties to Toyotomi Hidetsugu, the man who became kampaku after Hideyoshi stepped down and took the title of Taikō. Since Hideyoshi now had a son, he wanted his son to be heir, however, Hidetsugu declined. Not wanting a succession dispute to turn into a war, like what happened with the Ōnin War, he sends Hidetsugu and his family away for a few days, then orders their execution. Tadaoki was under suspicion for his relationship with Hidetsugu, and Tadaoki had told Gracia that if the moment were to come, she would need to commit seppuku. When she told the plans to the fathers in a letter, she was told that suicide was seen as a grave sin and as a Christian, she should not do so. Luckily, the matter was dropped, and both Tadaoki and Gracia were spared.(8)

Unfortunately, Gracia would meet her fate on August 25, 1600. After Hideyoshi died, the country was divided. The Hosokawa sided with the Tokugawa and when they moved East, Tadaoki left with them, leaving Gracia behind at their home in Ōsaka. Ishida Mitsunari saw this as an opportunity to take back Ōsaka, where a lot of families who were loyal to the Toyotomi still resided. They became hostages in the end, as Mitsunari used them for leverage to either get powerful warlords to his side or at least give them a reason not to attack. This backfired when Mitsunari decided to get Gracia. Not wanting to become a political pawn, Gracia is killed by Ogasawara Shōsai, who then committed seppuku after the mansion was set ablaze.(9) Father Organtino had her remains buried in the Christian city of Sakai, but was later moved to Sōzenji in Ōsaka and has a spot next to her husband at Kōtō-in, a sub-temple of Daitoku-ji in Kyōto.(10)

Canonization: What is it?

Canonization is the process within some branches of Christianity that honors the life of someone who has led a very Christian life or for someone who has been martyred because of their faith.(11) While there are different paths for canonization depending on the branch of Christianity, we will be looking at the Catholic path to sainthood, for Gracia was baptized as a Catholic, much like her contemporary, Blessed Takayama Ukon.

The steps to becoming a saint in the Catholic Church are as follows: five years have to have passed before they can become a candidate for canonization. In many cases, it is many years after their deaths before they become a candidate, but the Pope does have the power to waive this rule. The most current exceptions to the first step have been Saint Pope John Paul II (who was being considered for canonization the same year of his death in 2005), and Saint Mother Teresa (who was being considered for canonization two years after her death in 1997).(12) After the time has passed, or has been waived, then a discussion can begin about the candidate’s life. This is usually opened for investigation by the bishop of the diocese where the candidate died, or other religious groups within that diocese can. Any and all materials are gathered on the individual in question, including their writings and witness testimonies. Once there is enough evidence, the bishop then brings everything in front of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, and asks their permission to open the case. Once the case is opened, the individual is referred to as a “Servant of God”.(13)

Next, the Congregation for the Causes of Saints looks over everything again, this time playing “devil’s advocate”, looking at the things that might keep them from becoming a saint. They look at the candidate’s holiness and work and of any signs of people being drawn to prayer through their example. If the Congregation approves, they make their case to the Pope. If the Pope deems that the individual has led a life of “heroic virtue”, they receive the title of “Venerable”.(14)

Depending on the matter of their death depends on how they advance to the title of “Blessed”. Normally, a miracle needs to be attributed to them and verified by the Vatican for them to earn the title of “Blessed”. If they were martyred, much like in the case of Takayama Ukon, they do not require this first miracle and will just be given the title.(15)

Lastly, one last miracle is needed, much like in the step to earn the title of “Blessed”, before the title of “Saint” can be bestowed to the individual. Once that has been verified by the Vatican once again, a ceremony is held, which draws in many followers, and the individual is made a saint.

The Case for Gracia

Gracia’s portrait in Nobunaga’s Ambition: Sphere of Influence

From what I have been able to find, no one has made a case for Hosokawa Gracia to become a saint within the Catholic Church. Everything that I have read about her as shown me that she would be a great candidate for sainthood. Gracia suffered much during her life. She was sent into exile for a couple of years to make sure she was not killed by vengeful Oda followers or have to commit seppuku herself. Once she is able to be reunited with her husband and children, she is locked up again out of fear that Hideyoshi will have his way with her. Then there is the possibility of her husband turning callous towards her because of her forbidden faith and raising the children she had baptized as Christians without drawing any suspicion from her husband. While these are all positives towards a possible case for her, there is one thing that I see as the reason why there might be a hiccup if she is ever considered for sainthood: her death.

Though the book is over sixty years old (as of writing this article), Laures lays out the problems that surround the accounts of her death, stating that “[a]ccording to the customary version of Japanese historians, Gracia died by her own hands. The same is maintained also by the various reports of the Hosokawa Chronicle, except the traditional version of the Hosokawa family.”(16) According to this, Gracia had asked Ogasawara to cut off her head, but because she was in her room, he could not do it because it would be unbecoming, so she killed herself. While Laures explains that the Hosokawa’s version of the story comes from how they would rather portray her as a true samurai’s wife rather than a Christian, I do not think it is the end all, be all explanation. Considering the possibility that Tadaoki disliked his wife’s religion, it is possible that the document could have been written to cover up her Christianity. Depending on when this document was written as well (no bibliography in the book unfortunately, so I do not know when the Hosokawa Chronicles were written) it could have been written to show that the Hosokawa had no Christian ties whatsoever in a world that was quickly become anti-Christian. Most of these accounts were written long after these events happened, and if it was being written during a time of Christian persecution in Japan, that is probably the reason for the omission of Gracia’s faith and cause of death from the official records.

The most common cause of death is the one I listed in her mini-biography above, that she was killed by a loyal Hosokawa retainer. It has been said that before Tadaoki left east with the Tokugawa, he told Ogasawara to kill his wife if her honor was in danger. While the author of Two Japanese Christian Heroes writes that this was because he knew his wife could not commit seppuku because of her faith, it also could mean that he knew she would not commit seppuku because of her faith and rather her being used as a pawn in war games, he would have her killed instead.

Final Thoughts

Hosokawa Gracia was a devout follower of the Catholic faith since her conversion, and one of the only upper class females in Japanese history during this era that we know of that became Christian. Not much research has been done on her outside of Japan, and I believe we need to dive into her history a bit more. We do not know much about Bl. Takayama Ukon, yet he is well on his way to become canonized. I believe the same can be done for Gracia and I know she would be honored to receive such a title. I hope I get to see the day where they begin taking the steps to make Gracia a saint, but it may not be in my lifetime. Nevertheless, Gracia is deserving of the title of saint, and I hope one day she receives it.


  1. Laures, Johannes. Two Japanese Christian Heroes (1959), p. 73
  2. Laures, Johannes. Two Japanese Christian Heroes (1959), p. 83
  3. Laures, Johannes. Two Japanese Christian Heroes (1959), p. 84
  4. Laures, Johannes. Two Japanese Christian Heroes (1959), p. 87
  5. Laures, Johannes. Two Japanese Christian Heroes (1959), p. 92. There has been much debate about Hideyoshi’s first ban on the Christians, however, it was not enforced as much as it was later in 1597, which resulted in the deaths of twenty-six Christians, known today as the Twenty-Six Martyrs of Japan.
  6. Laures, Johannes. Two Japanese Christian Heroes (1959), p. 95
  7. This is mainly a response from reading Two Japanese Christian Heroes where Tadaoki is painted out as a loving and overprotective husband with a bit of a temper, and then reading an article from The Conversation written back in 2015 titled “Battered wife or ‘Strong Woman’? The real life and death of Gracia Hosokawa”. This paints Tadaoki to be an overbearing and abusive husband who killed his wife in the end. This article does not site where they get this information from, but it is an interesting read. For those who want to read that article, you can find it here: https://theconversation.com/battered-wife-or-strong-woman-the-real-life-and-death-of-gracia-hosokawa-37793
  8. Laures, Johannes. Two Japanese Christian Heroes (1959), p. 106
  9. Laures, Johannes. Two Japanese Christian Heroes (1959), p. 111
  10. “Hosokawa Gracia” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hosokawa_Gracia, last visited 4/16/2021
  11. “Canonization” https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Canonization, last visited 4/16/2021. While saints are usually associated with Catholic and Orthodox Churches, apparently some Protestant branches have their own version of this, the United Methodists being one of these.
  12. “How does someone become a saint?” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27140646, last visited 4/16/2021
  13. “How does someone become a saint?” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27140646, last visited 4/16/2021
  14. “How does someone become a saint?” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27140646, last visited 4/16/2021
  15. “How does someone become a saint?” https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-27140646, last visited 4/16/2021
  16. Laures, Johannes. Two Japanese Christian Heroes (1959), p. 113, direct quotes