The Namugongo Uganda martyrs shrines were setup following the death of 45 Christian young men who were both catholic and Anglican in 1888. These were killed by king Mwanga II of Buganda because they refused to renounce Christianity a religion they had adopted after it was introduced in Uganda by the missionaries during the reign of Kabaka Murtesa I. After Mutesa’s untimely death, his son Mwanga took over the throne but unfortunately, he was nothing like his late father character wise especially after he became king but he had welcomed the missionaries while he was only a prince. He lacked charisma and wanted nothing to do with western people or anything they represented this is why he was bitter with all people that embraced what he called the western religion. Christianity required renouncing the native religious practices, old life style, traditional beliefs things that he was not willing to quit therefore he was determined to have this religion stamped out of his kingdom therefore considered the new believers as rebels and for that matter, he had them killed. Some them were beheaded before being burned, others were dismembered, beheaded and then burned while other were just tied down and then burned to death in Namugongo at a places where they were later buried and the shrines are today. The killings begun with the Bishop James Hannington a missionary who was killed from Busoga while on his way to Buganda to spread the Christianity and he was followed by one of Mwanga’s advisor who condemned that action.
These shrines were first recognized in 1985 by Joshua Serufusa whose father was one of the people who fought the religious wars in Uganda, he became a strong believer and then enhanced his son’s belief in God. After he took interest, Joshua built up a small structure in Namugongo in respect of those that were killed and later the shrines were built in the same spot and then cathedrals were built on the exact spots where most of them were burned to death in both the Anglican and the catholic wing. For a number of years now, Millions of people from different parts of Uganda and outside Uganda do gather at Namugongo on 3rd June every year for a holly service/ fellowship and it is done to commemorate the lives of these 45 Uganda Martyrs. This is regarded as a pilgrimage that is why the ceremony is always graced by the top leaders from both the catholic and the Anglican Church.
Namugongo shrines are so significant that prominent people like the catholic top leader, the pope has visited the place too. This was Pope Paul VI during his visit to Uganda in 1993 but before his coming, he had canonized the 22 catholic martyrs and considered them as saints in the Catholic Church. This year, the current Pope, Pope Francis is expected to visit Uganda and one of the places that he will be visiting is the Namugongo shrine. According to the documentation, only 45 people are mention but it is possible that many more other Christians were killed by Mwanga VI for the same reason but they no one ever got to know about their deaths.
Besides, being a religious site, it is also one of the tourists’ sites which attract a large number of travelers from different parts of the world and some are from within Uganda. People who are interested in having firsthand information about the history of the place, those that believe in their cause and those that just want to see how the burial ground look like do visit the place. This place can be visited any time of the year because there are no hindrances like the poor road due to the rain making them impassable or anything. Visiting the Namugongo shrines is one of the activities that are included in the Kampala city tour itinerary.