The discovery of King Richard III’s bones underneath a car park in Leicester was one of the hottest news stories of 2012. And it still generates a lot of interest: according to the BBC, since the reburial in 2015 of Richard’s remains beneath a handsome tomb in Leicester Cathedral, about 2,500 visitors a day have come to a church that hitherto rarely attracted throngs of tourists.

Now, like the cathedral in Leicester, the Catholic cathedral in Tokyo may start drawing crowds, in part because of a new shrine to a Catholic martyr whose bones were recently entombed there, and in part because of the forthcoming film Silence, directed by Martin Scorsese and starring Andrew Garfield and Liam Neeson.

Silence is a movie Scorsese has been thinking about for 25 years. It’s based on the novel of the same name by Shusaku Endo, a Japanese Catholic novelist who was the runner-up for the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1994. (Endo was edged out by fellow Japanese writer Kenzaburo Ōe.)

Sadly, Endo will not walk the red carpet when Silence opens on December 23 – he died in 1996. Yet during all these years of delay, Scorsese never lost his enthusiasm for the novel that is the basis of his film. He has said that Silence is Endo’s “greatest novel, and one that has become increasingly precious to me as the years have gone by”. It’s a book that he admits he has re-read countless times.

Flash back to July 2014, when builders, working in the car park of an apartment complex in Tokyo, unearthed three skeletons. The site was known to be the location of a 17th-century prison known as the Kirishitan Yashiki, or Christian Mansion. Given what Christians endured there, the term “mansion” must have been used ironically.

One of the skeletons had been placed in a coffin, fragments of which survive. The other two skeletons had been less carefully buried. Analysis of the remains found that the body in the coffin was that of a European, specifically a middle-aged Italian male. The other two skeletons were of an elderly Japanese male and an elderly Japanese female. The remains were dated to the 18th century.

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