Uganda Martyrs Trail

The Uganda Martyrs Trail is one of the most important religious features of Kampala and Uganda. The Uganda Martyrs trail cements Uganda as a Christian country. The trail covers martyrdom sites where a number of Christians, most of whom were pages (helpers) in the King’s Palace were executed for their Christian faith.

The Christians (both Catholic and Anglican) were disobeying the king’s orders that were contradictory to their new found faiths and thus the king ordered for their killing, after they refused to denounce their Christian faith.

History of the Uganda Martyrs – the road to martyrdom

The first catholic Christian martyr, St. Joseph Mukasa Balikudembe, was killed on 15th November 1885 in Nakivubo, Kampala. But this was before, the then King of Buganda, Kabaka Mwanga held a court session at his palace in Munyonyo located on the shore of Lake Victoria and sentenced to death a group of 15 Christians on 25th May 1886, and his ruling marked the beginning of the large-scale persecution and killing of Christians who refused to denounce their faith.  Once the Christians were sentenced to death at Munyonyo, they were tied up and put on the march to Namugongo which was the execution ground of the Kabaka. The journey from Munyonyo (and from other places where Christians were picked after the Kabaka’s ruling) to Namugongo was tormentous that many Christians, 9 in number, died or were killed along the way when they could not continue.

Too tired to walk, the last Christians were dragged on their backs as they got to Namugongo. It is this practice that gave birth to the name “Namugongo” which was derived from the phrase “babaleta na mugongo”, meaning “they were brought (to the execution grounds) on their backs”. “Mugongo” is a word in the local Luganda language for the body part “back”. “Na mugongo” literally means “on/by the back“, hence the name of the place “Namugongo”.

The final group of 13 Christians that survived the horrendous journey and reached the execution ground at Namugongo were executed by burning them to death, on 3rd June 1886. They were tied between reeds and lots of firewood, and the wood was put on fire from the feet area so that they could die a slow and painful death. The Christians died with defiance, singing and praising God as they burned away in the blazing firewood.

The Uganda Martyr’s Day

3rd June, the day on which the Uganda Martyrs were burned at Namugongo, came to be called the Uganda Martyrs Day and is one of the most important days of the calendar for Catholic and Anglican Christians in Uganda and the region. Millions of pilgrims make a trip to Namugongo to celebrate the Uganda martyrs on 3rd June. This is perhaps the biggest religious gathering on the continent, and one of the biggest in the world.

Many Christians coming from the far corners of the country and from across the borders chose to walk for days and weeks to get to the Namugongo for the martyr’s day celebrations on 3rd June. The Christians subject themselves to the hardships of walking hundreds of kilometers to emulate the martyrs who sacrificed their lives for their faiths. The Christians who draw inspiration from the martyrs feel their faith is strengthened by the long walk and hardships they face during the journey to Namugongo.

Namugongo Martyr’s shrine – the basilica & martyrs lake

A beautiful basilica stands majestically at Namugongo and has become the icon of the martyr’s shrine & martyrs day celebrations. Next to the basilica is the Martyrs lake, a small man made lake which is at the site of the swamp/stream where killers of the martyrs washed their pangas executing the martyrs. The water of the lake is considered holy because it is where the blood of the martyrs was washed off the pangas of the killers.

The lake is surrounded by the pavilion where pilgrims seat to attend mass during the martyr’s day celebrations.

Uganda Martyrs Museum Namugongo

There is also a museum which showcases the journey and execution of the martyrs through sculptors.

A monument is built at each martyrdom site, starting from Munyonyo near the shores of Lake Victoria.

The Uganda Martyrs trail and Kampala City tour

The Uganda martyr’s trail tour is one of the most spiritually nourishing experiences for a Christian pilgrim. It is also a great source of history about religion in Uganda, as well as culture, as the trail overlaps the Buganda Royal tourism circuit.

The Uganda Martyrs tour is a full day experience where you go tracking the different monuments/shrines of each martyr through the chaotic Kampala City before winding up at the pristine grounds of Namugongo Martyrs shrine the final execution ground of the martyrs. You can drive to each of the shrines or decide to walk in the footsteps of the martyrs and trek to each of the sites.

The Martyrs trail tour starts at Munyonyo Martyrs Shrine where the King Mwanga gave the order to kill the Christians. Within the area of Munyonyo the first three Christians were killed right after the king gave the orders. A beautiful basilica sits here, and you can start the Martyrs trail tour with celebrating mass in the basilica.

You will visit the martyrdom sites of each of the 9 Christians that were killed enroute to Namungongo, and learning about the unique backgrounds of each of these martyrs and how they met their death with such conviction of their belief in God. The martyrdom sites are littered in different suburbs of the city and within the busy and chaotic central business district.

You will also visit the Buganda Royal Tourism circuit which includes the Kabaka’s Palace in Mengo, the royal mile, the Buganda Parliament and the Kabaka’s Lake in Mengo. You will learn so much about the Buganda Kingdom, the history, culture and traditions of the Baganda people who occupy much of central Uganda. The Buganda Kingdom and the Uganda Martyrs are intertwined because the King of the Buganda gave the orders to kill the Christians.

You will also have an insight into the day to day lives of the local people in Kampala City.

Visiting all the 9 martyrdom sites requires a full day and on this day you will not make it to Namugongo.

The following day you will then go visit the Namugongo Martyrs shrine and the museum, the climax of the Uganda Martyrs trail.

Uganda Martyrs trail tour and Uganda Martyrs day itinerary

Are you an international pilgrim group that want to visit Uganda for the martyrs day, we plan and organize your pilgrimage trip. We arrange for your seating in the guest’s area at the pavilion, working with the Uganda Episcopal Conference in Kampala.

The itinerary is as follow

1st June

Arrival in Uganda and overnight in Entebbe

2nd June

Full day tour on the Uganda Martyrs trail in Kampala. The tour will start with a visit at the Kigungu Missionary Landing site in Entebbe which is the place where the first Christian missionaries first set foot on mainland Uganda. It is therefore the entry point of Christianity into mainland Uganda.

Thereafter you will transfer to Munyonyo the starting point of the Uganda Martyrs trail. You can have an hour of mass in the basilica before continuing on the trail

Full day on the martyrs’ trail and Buganda Royal tourism circuit.

You shall visit Namugongo today. It is already filled with pilgrims by this day.

3rd June

Attend the Uganda Martyrs day celebrations in Namugongo. Later you will be treated to a relaxing sunset cruise on Lake Victoria with dinner.

4th June

With Namungongo free from the millions of pilgrims, we shall go to visit the shrine and the museum.

Have farewell lunch in Entebbe and later take an evening flight back home.

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