The Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo is among the best and largest Christian pilgrimage destinations in Africa, drawing many travellers from all over the world. The Uganda Martyrs pilgrimage that happens every year on 3rd June is rated as the most popular religious tourism activity in Uganda.
In 1967, construction of the most prominent shrine in the word started and completed in 1975
The Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo is dedicated to the 32 Martyrs of Uganda who were martyred between 1885 and 1887 on the orders of the king of Buganda for refusal to denounce their newly found faith-Christianity.
King Mwanga II of Buganda (Kabaka Mwanga) was initially very supportive of Christianity and religious faith. He welcomed the first missionaries and donated his own land to build the first Catholic Church. Later on, Christianity gained a lot of support something that didn’t go well with the King. He felt insecure that his powers were at risk. The rate at which people were being converted to Christianity and worshiping God became of serious concern. In response, the King ordered his people and mainly those close to him at the palace to denounce their new Christian faith. The martyrs buried at The Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo shed their blood under the orders of Kabaka Mwanga II for the Christian faith that they refused to denounce.
Among the converts who refused to denounce the Christian faith was St Charles Lwanga who was made to prepare his own death bed of firewood, later was wrapped in reeds and burnt from the toes to the smallest piece of his hair. It was so touching such that he didn’t yell or cry loud but rather twisted and moaned till he breathed his last.
Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo’s grandeur of an ancient Cathedral whose structural design is copied from the African Hut is made up of 22 copper pillars standing over 100 feet long supporting the shrine. The shrine has the capacity to accommodate 1000 people whose seats are organized in a circular form.
History of Uganda Martyrs Shrine Namugongo
In 1967, construction of the most prominent shrine in the word started and completed in 1975, (The construction of the shrine lasted for 8 years). The shrine was built at the exact spot where St. Charles Lwanga and his companions were burnt to death. Following the holocaust of the Martyrs which reached a climax on 3rd June 1886, Namugongo has steadily taken on the image of attraction as a place of pilgrimage and religious tourism.
A lake was dug up in the saints’ honor and has a pavilion or Island in form of a modern boat.
It has a deck-like make on which the altar for Holy Mass is situated and a cabin under the altar bears the Sacristy, a kitchen, and bedroom where Pope Francis shortly occupied when he visited Uganda in 2015.
Namugongo shrine and Uganda in general has hosted 3 popes; making it a record breaking historical site.
- Pope Paul VI became the first Roman Catholic Pontiff to go out of the Vatican gates on a foreign trip to Africa and more particularly to Uganda on July 31- August 2 1969. He had earlier canonized the Uganda Martyrs on October 18, 1964.
- The first non-Italian Pope from Poland, Pope John Paul (now a Saint) visited Uganda; February 5 – 10, 1993. While in Uganda, the Holy Father made a pilgrimage to Namugongo shrine to honor the Uganda martyrs.
- The first Jesuit Pope, the Holy Father became the third Pope to visit Uganda. Like his two predecessors, Pope Francis came to Uganda as a pilgrim to venerate the Holy martyrs at Namugongo shrine.
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In honor of the protestant martyrs, a church stands at the place where the Anglican martyrs met their death. This is about 2 miles (3.2 km) further the Basilica of the Namugongo Uganda Martyrs. Most available documentation talks about only 45 martyrs but it is believed that many more believers met their death at the command of Kabaka Mwanga II between 1885 and 1887.
A very informative museum with live history is near the Anglican martyrs church – Namugongo.
The sun may still rise from the east and water may still be the colourless liquid that quenches thirst; yet the streets, the dwellers, the shops and their keepers will for a day or more live a different version of events because of the masses of people who come to the Shrine on this day.
On this date, Ugandan and non-Ugandan pilgrims make their way to the Uganda Martyrs Shrine in Namugongo.