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Sunday, June 13, 2010

Uganda Martyrs Shrine

Written by Kristin Krantz-Odendahl  reposted by Prof Root due to technical problems with the blog - (sorry the pictures were lost). 

French Missionaries came to Uganda to convert the locals and among those converted were several pages to the Buganda King. The pages were very loyal to their new faith and always took time for their prayers as well as not working on Sunday. The King became upset when they consistently defied his orders by putting their religion before his needs. He consulted a fortune teller who told the King that part of the palace burned down because of the Christians’ new faith. The King then consulted with his chiefs and decided to put the Christians to death. The Christian pages were separated from the non-Christians and persecuted. Three Anglicans were killed near the shores of Lake Victoria. Other Christians had their limbs cut off and scattered around the city to scare other Christians from the faith. The first catholic martyr was Joseph Balekuddembe who was beheaded and burned on November 15 1885 near Owino Market (Brittany talked about in her May 21 post). There is also a small shrine at that location. On June 3 1886 the rest of the martyrs were killed at the site of the church which was already a place of death – the execution site for the foulest criminals. The martyrs refused to renounce their faith so they were forced to gather firewood for their own burning. The martyrs were wrapped in the firewood and burned alive. At least one of the martyrs was unconscious prior to burning. He was the nephew of an executioner and refused to be saved. His uncle knocked him on the head to save him the pain of burning. The church itself is a cone shaped building styled after traditional African buildings. It is supported by 22 pillars, representing the 22 Catholic martyrs. Each of the wooden doors has people and scenes carved in to it such as the burnings and several bishops. The 1,000 seat church is open for prayer every day and is highly utilized. It features many pieces of religious art work including a sculpture of a martyr performing a baptism and a painting of the martyrs up in heaven with Jesus on the cross with the Ark below them.

The lawns are complete with very large lawns and an outdoor gazebo area where a mass is held every year on Martyrs Day, a national holiday commemorating the sacrifice of the martyrs. The area has several pavilions for different groups including a choir area and the stands reserved for the president and other political dignitaries. Martyrs Day is especially meaningful to Catholic and Christian Ugandans and people pilgrimage from the US and UK and some walk all the way from Kenya.

Here are some questions for reflection: Does this monument bring people together in rememberence or tear them apart due to different religions because of the significance placed on Christianity? What are the implications of a national holiday for Christian martyrs? What are the implications of having a yearly mass at the Shrine? Does the separation of church and government have a future in Uganda? What relation does this have to sustainable development? What else if anything struck you about the church, the grounds of the tour in general?


  1. I think that the monument tends to bring people together in remembrance of the event rather than tering them apart. This can be seen in the pilgrimmages that people will make to the shrine, as well as the significance placed on Martyrs' Day. While Martyrs' Day is a national holiday, I do not think that it is reflected much within the Ugandan government. However, I feel that separation of church and state within Uganda will be difficult to achieve due to laws that are religion based within the nation.

  2. It does seem that a holiday dedicated to Catholic martyrs would only make more divisions between Christians and Muslims. However, I think it also stands as an inspiration for people of every faith to be more dedicated to their beliefs. From talking to some of the MUBS students, most of them had been to the shrine before, independent of their religion. I had even gotten into a discussion afterwards with a mix of Muslim, Catholic, and Protestant on what we would do if in that situation. I think the gathering of so many people for Martyrs Day is good for the economy because it generates a lot of business. All of the people traveling from outside Uganda need food and lodging and will probably visit other shops. It's also good for sustainable development if it attracts these large amounts of people year after year.

  3. Written by JT Cattle reposted by Lauren Asp due to technical problems.

    Great recap! Our visit to the Martyrs Shrine was a very neat experience, and I think a shrine like this is a great way to not only share with people what happened back in 1885, but it recognizes the strength of the religion now and just shows how much progress has been made. In my opinion this monument can only bring people closer together because it makes available the chance to learn either more about your own religion, or even better, more about a different religion.

    Martyrs Day took place the day we visited New Vision, and on all the television screens there was coverage of what was happening at the shrine. I couldn't believe the number of people present, and it really showed me the dedication of the Christians around the country of Uganda, and it also goes to show our topic of Sustainable Development. Faith, for the most part, is something that continues to grow with people over time, and if that stays true, the support towards the Martyrs Shrine will flourish far into the future. It would have been such an amazing experience to have attended mass at the Martyrs Shrine, but I am just so glad we had the experience to visit this place of such significance.