About 15 kilometers away from Mengo (Lubiri) palace in Kampala, is Namugongo catholic shrine. This is the place where young men, most of them pages of the court of King Mwanga ii of Buganda were burnt to death as result of their devotion to Christianity.
It’s on record that King Mwanga ii of Buganda was initially very supportive of Christianity and religious faith in Uganda – see info about Lubaga cathedral (Adventure Consults Kampala City Tour). 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.
It’s from this background that 32 young Christian converts (Including Anglican & Catholics) were martyred after refusing to denounce Christianity. Namugongo was formerly a place of execution of all people who committed grave offences in the kingdom of Buganda, and it’s the same place where the most gruesome killings happened. On orders of the King, execution of 13 young men happened at Namugongo. This is in addition to many other sites where people were gruesomely tortured to death. Among the converts 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.
In 1967, construction of the most prominent shrine in the word started and lasted 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.
Every 3rd of June is a big day in Uganda and East Africa at large as people of different religious denominations from all over the world congregate at Namugongo to commemorate the lives of the Uganda Martyrs. Heads of state from various countries around the world, top church leaders of various religions come to Namugongo shrine every 3rd June. People of shades, trible, National and color walk for months and weeks from all corners of East and Central Africa, students and local Ugandans walk 100s of miles and ensure they are at the shrine before or by 3rd June in honor of the Uganda Martyrs.
Namugongo shrine and Uganda in general has written a number of golden pages in the world’s history by hosting 3 popes;
- 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.
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.
While on a tour to Uganda, ensure Namugongo shrines is part of your Kampala City tour.