June 3: The Martyrs of Uganda, 1886

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Charles Lwanga (in the center) and his 21 followers. Albert Wider (1962)

About this commemoration

June 3, 1886, thirty-two young men, pages of the court of King Mwanga of Buganda, were burned to death at Namugongo for their refusal to renounce Christianity. In the following months many other Christians throughout the country died by fire or spear for their faith.

These martyrdoms totally changed the dynamic of Christian growth in Uganda. Introduced by a handful of Anglican and Roman Catholic missionaries after 1877, the Christian faith had been preached only to the immediate members of the court, by order of King Mutesa. His successor, Mwanga, became increasingly angry as he realized that the first converts put loyalty to Christ above the traditional loyalty to the king. Martyrdoms began in 1885 (including Bishop Hannington and his Companions: see October 29th). Mwanga first forbade anyone to go near a Christian mission on pain of death, but finding himself unable to cool the ardor of the converts, resolved to wipe out Christianity.

The Namugongo martyrdoms produced a result entirely opposite to Mwanga’s intentions. The example of these martyrs, who walked to their death singing hymns and praying for their enemies, so inspired many of the bystanders that they began to seek instruction from the remaining Christians. Within a few years the original handful of converts had multiplied many times and spread far beyond the court. The martyrs had left the indelible impression that Christianity was truly African, not simply a white man’s religion. Most of the missionary work was carried out by Africans rather than by white missionaries, and Christianity spread steadily. Uganda is now the most Christian nation in Africa.

Renewed persecution of Christians by a Muslim military dictatorship in the 1970’s proved the vitality of the example of the Namugongo martyrs. Among the thousands of new martyrs, both Anglican and Roman Catholic, was Janani Luwum, Archbishop of the (Anglican) Church of Uganda, whose courageous ministry and death inspired not only his countrymen but also Christians throughout the world.


I  O God, by whose providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: Grant that we who remember before thee the blessed martyrs of Uganda, may, like them, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ, to whom they gave obedience even unto death, and by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

II  O God, by your providence the blood of the martyrs is the seed of the Church: Grant that we who remember before you the blessed martyrs of Uganda, may, like them, be steadfast in our faith in Jesus Christ, to whom they gave obedience, even to death, and by their sacrifice brought forth a plentiful harvest; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

Psalm 138


Habakkuk 2:9–14

Hebrews 10:32–39

Matthew 24:9–14

Preface of Holy Week

From Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.

13 thoughts on “June 3: The Martyrs of Uganda, 1886

  1. This commemoration is already included in the Calendar. The Hebrew Scripture reading is new.

  2. I take issue with the suggestion that Uganda is the most Christian nation in Africa. Uganda is currently undertaking to exterminate homosexuals, to some extent under the influence of American fundamentalists, and the Anglican Church is doing little or nothing about it. While I recognize that these people may consider themselves Christian, they are hardly what we would call Christian, nor are they acting from motives that we would consider Christian. There has to be a way to reword the hagiagrophy for this proper that does not give Uganda credit for being “the most Christian nation in Africa”.

    • David –

      An interesting, and true, comment. When this bio was written (long ago in Episcopal Church circles) the claim had quite a different context. This only points out the need to review all of the bios – as we are doing this triennium with this blog – both Trial Use and already in the Calendar, for their appropriateness.

      Over the months we (those persistent contributors on this blog) have ‘caught’ several of these instances. And, this surely is one of them IMO. 😦

  3. By the way, there is no apostrophe between the zero and the “s” in 1970s.

    I am not sure that Uganda ever deserved to be called the most Christian nation in Africa, even if about 80% of the population consider themselves Christian. Perhaps this was the result of rose tinted post-colonial glasses. Really Uganda is a case study of how much we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.

    Independence from British rule came in 1962. By 1966, there were already problems when Obote became the dictator. This continued until he was ousted by Idi Amin in 1971. Most of us who blog here well remember the atrocities of Amin’s eight year rule. His animosity was particularly directed against the Acholi and Langi ethnic groups of northern Uganda. I doubt anyone will ever know the death toll from his years of rule, but the numbers range from 100,000 to 300,000 persons.

    When the Tanzanian backed Ugandan rebels ousted Amin, political stability did not come to all of Uganda even though Yoweri Museveni has been president since 1986. Civil war continues in the northern area. It has been estimated that 25,000 children have been abducted into the Lord’s Resistance Army. Since 1996, the 1.6 million persons live in internal displaced persons camps in northern Uganda where 1000 people a week are dying of starvation and disease according to the WHO.

    The anti-homosexuality bill which has not been passed by Uganda’s parliament has already been mentioned.

    The country is challenged by a high population growth rate of 3.4% a year because women have on average 6-7 children. The country has high mortality rates for children under 5 years of age as well as older children. It is struggling with an HIV/AIDS prevalence rate of 6.5%. Though malaria is endemic, only about 10% of children under 5 years and pregnant women sleep under insecticide treated bed nets. Tuberculosis is another major health problem for Uganda since about half of those with TB also have HIV/AIDS. The list of problems goes on and on.

    Christianity has not brought freedom from tribal and ethnic rivalries nor the end of corrupt governments and suffering people.

    • I am going to add a post-script to Michael Hartney’s comment. Those of us who have persevered through the year in reading, praying and thinking about the entries in HWHM have learned much from each other as well as the texts, even when we have found errors and problems. I know I will miss the discipline once the end of June arrives.

  4. I came to this site late, and didn’t realize that comment would end so soon. Can I go back and comment on entries from before I joined this discussion?

    • Cynthia.

      Yes you can. Go to the archive menu on the right side and choose your month. If the first screen doesn’t go back far enough to the date you want in that particular month – then at the bottom of the screen there is a ‘go back further’ button for that particular month.

      How long the SCLM will continue to keep the blog active is unknown. They have to get their Blue Book report ready pretty soon for publication prior to the General Convention in 2012.

      Happy hunting. 🙂

    • Cynthia, You can get to them, and you can leave a comment. I have no idea of when the committee actually works with the comments, or whether they have finished considereing some. Maybe not. Give it the benefit of the doubt — it will be good for you and all of us to read what you write. (They also show up on the list of “COMMENTS” on the dark horizontal line at the very top of each day’s posting. (You might want to click on “POSTS” up there, too — I never have. There might be another way to get to older postings.)

      On today’s page, as an example, at the right side of the page (about opposite the last full line of bio) you’ll see “ARCHIVE OF POSTS” and a little check box to bring down a list of months. It’s that way on each day’s commemoration page.

      Selecting a month will take you to the last commemoration of that month. You can go chronologically forward or backward from there. (At least that’s how I do it.) If the date you want is early in the month, go to the predecing month and you’ll be closer, moving forward. For one that falls later in the month, just go backwards day by day from the end of the commemoration’s month. (There may be a more effective way, but I only know enough about computers to get the cave drawings up on the ceiling with my MS-DOS chisel printer. 🙂

      On each day’s commemoration you’ll find that “ARCHIVE OF POSTS” thing over to the right — not necessarily lined up with the last line of the day’s narrative, but somewhere over there. Happy commenting! –JFL

  5. I’ll reiterate my prior unease about the use of the Holy Week preface for “regular” (i.e., non-Jesus) martyrs but you can go back the martyrs of Sudan to read more about what I had to say.

    Also, when any person of the Trinity is mentioned more than once in a collect, it’s customary to change the ending to: “through the same Jesus Christ Our Lord, etc.” Great collect otherwise though — it rewards prayerful re-reading and the “even unto death” phrase evokes some wonderful patristic theology of Christ as the type of all martyrs (both white and red). Quality stuff there

    • Your point about changing the ending when a person of the Trinity has been mentioned earlier in the collect may confuse some readers—the change is only to ‘through the same Jesus Christ our Lord’ if it is the second person of the Trinity who has already been referred to. In other cases it’s to ‘the same Holy Spirit’. Curiously, this is true of the second person of the Trinity only in Rite I collects. In Rite II collects, the phrase ‘the same Holy Spirit; or ‘the same Spirit’ is occasionally found, but ‘the same Jesus’ never.

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