Namugongo Martyrs Shrine is located about 12km from the capital city of Uganda (Kampala) just along Jinja Road and it is an established historical place of executive in pre-colonial Buganda. This historical place is mainly remembered for the massacre that took place in Uganda on 3rd June 1886 on the order of Kabaka Mwanga .During the last days of May that year, many Baganda men and women who had been baptized by the hated Christians were forced to match naked in broad day light. At that time, the African Traditional religion was too strong in Buganda and the king highly respected it. Therefore, he expected all his people to follow the African beliefs and not the “white man’s religion”.
The transformation of Baganda men and women to Christianity angered the Kabaka and he was forced to detain these new Christians in Mengo. From Mengo, they were forced to match naked to Namugongo where they were imprisoned for several days. While in prison, the Kabaka ordered his men to prepare a large pyre which was t be used to punish the Baganda converts.
After some few days of pyre construction and several Baganda meetings that were organized to decide the fate for the “miss behaved” Baganda, the king finally made his decision on 3rd June 1886.The king ordered the prisoners to renounce their new adopted religion or else face the rough side of him. Some of the prisoners accepted and the last opportunity was given on 3rd June. Whenever a prisoner renounced Christianity, he/she would be released and about 26 individuals declined to the King’s orders. Among the 26 individuals were the Catholics and few Protestants.
Charles Lwanga, who was the leader of the Catholic contingent, was hacked apart and burnt alive on the spot. On that same day, the remaining Christians were bound in reed mats, thrown on the pyre and burnt alive. The 26 remembered Christians were baptized and they were known by each mission by name but some history state that more than 30 people were thrown on to the fire.
It was in 1920 when people Benedict XV paved way for the future canonization by declaring and blessing the 13 known Catholic martyrs at Namugongo, together with other 9 Catholic victims of separate killings in May 1886.Pope Paul VI later canonized the 22 Catholic martyrs on 18th October 1964 and this was during the Vatican II conference.
In July 1969, Pope Paul VI visited Uganda and his main aim was to make a pilgrimage to Namugongo and he even instructed that a church and shrine be built on the spot where Lwanga had been killed. Many people from different parts of the world have made pilgrimages to Namugongo like Archbishop Robert Runcie of Canterbury in 1984 and Pope John Paul II in 1993.This has greatly induced other visitors to come to Uganda and have a live view of this memorial place.
Today, 3rd June is a public holiday in Uganda and it’s marked worldwide on the church calendar in honour of the Uganda Martyrs.