Facial Reconstruction Brings Back to Life the Last Missionary in the Land of the Rising Sun

Facial Reconstruction Brings Back to Life the Last Missionary in the Land of the Rising Sun

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A team of specialists at the National Museum of Nature and Science in Tokyo, Japan have recreated the pensive face of a European missionary. The man died in Tokyo in 1714 while he was kept in prison for his beliefs.

Upcoming Hollywood Film Draws Attention to “The Last Missionary”

Martin Scorsese’s “ Silence” is considered by most critics the most challenging film the celebrated director has ever made. It’s a probing and deeply spiritual examination of faith being tested by the seeming silence of God. If one takes into account the popularity of the director’s films such as The Taxi Driver , The Raging Bull , Goodfellas, and The Gangs of New York , you can easily imagine that his latest film will educate and enlighten millions of people around the world about a forgotten yet incredible story.

Scene from the movie “Silence”.

Scene from the movie “Silence”. ( Kerry Brown, Paramount Pictures )

Adapted from Shusaku Endo’s novel, “Silence” tells the story of a Portuguese Jesuit priest sent to Japan in the 17th century to find his mentor, a priest believed to have renounced his faith under torture. It contains everything you’d expect in a Scorsese movie — raw acts of violence and betrayal, human attempts at redemption, and most importantly, it appears to be heavily influenced by a real story that the vast majority of people seem to forget: that of an Italian priest named Giuseppe Chiara and his colleague Giovanni Battista Sidotti - often called “the last missionary.”

Reconstructing Giovanni Battista Sidotti’s Face

Rewind to 2014, when the skeletal relics of three males were unearthed in Tokyo’s Bunkyo Ward, where a detention residence for Christians, called the “Christian Mansion,” stood during the Edo Period (1603-1867).

Anthropological analysis and DNA testing showed that one of skeletons belonged to a tall male of Italian descent who was middle-aged at the time of his death. According to the official records, only two Italians stayed there at the time: one was Giuseppe Chiara (1602-1685), a missionary who died at the age of 84, and the other is Giovanni Battista Sidotti, who was 47 when he died in 1714. In April 2016, Bunkyo Ward authorities identified one set of relics as Sidotti’s. They requested the national museum work on the skull fragments and reconstruct his face.

The remains of Giovanni Battista Sidotti as they were discovered at a Tokyo construction site.

The remains of Giovanni Battista Sidotti as they were discovered at a Tokyo construction site. ( Bunkyo Ward government )

Even though only the right side of Sidotti's skull was recovered, the experts working on this project managed successfully to flip the digital model of the right side of the skull, to make up for the missing left, on a computer and produce a 3D-printed model to work with. Another major problem during the reconstruction of his face was the fact that there’s no portrait of Sidotti which could give the experts an idea of how he really looked.

For that reason, the facial reconstruction experts mostly based their image on a description of him in Hakuseki’s book. This helped with the color of his hair, the shape of Sidotti's eyes, and defining his high-bridged nose. Kenichi Shinoda, the head of the Department of Anthropology at the National Museum of Nature and Science, is satisfied with the outcome and said to News Network Archaeology , “He looks intelligent and mild. His personality comes across. It's easy to see why Hakuseki went the extra mile to beg for his life.”

The facial reconstruction of Giovanni Battista Sidotti.

The facial reconstruction of Giovanni Battista Sidotti. ( The Mainichi )

Lucky Coincidences

Shinoda added that if Sidotti’s remains had been found ten years earlier, the results would have been pretty disappointing; since analytic technology was not as advanced back then. However, if the relics had remained hidden for ten or more years from now, the DNA may well have been destroyed for good. As Shinoda stated , “The facial reconstruction was made possible by a number of miraculously lucky coincidences. I want visitors to the museum to peer at the face that speaks so much, and feel the tangible presence of a historical figure.”

It’s considered a certain thing that Sidotti will soon be beatified by the Pope . It only remains now to see whether he achieves sainthood, which requires either martyrdom or miracles.

Comments

The Portugese Jesuits were kicked out of Japan after an (Jesuit instigated?) uprising of Catholics against the rulers there. After that the Dutch who weren't as keen as the Portugese to convert Japan to christianity, for over two centuries had a monopoly on trade with Japan. They settled at the artificial island Dejima in the port of Nagasaki. Only when the Americans violently enforced the opening of trade with Japan in 1853, the Dutch monopoly was broken.

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