Crypto-Christianity commonly refers to the secret practice of the Christian religion, usually while attempting to camouflage it as another faith or observing the rituals of another religion publicly. In places and time periods where Christians were persecuted or Christianity was outlawed, instances of crypto-Christianity have surfaced.


Various time periods and places have seen large crypto-Christian cults and underground movements. This was usually the reaction to either threats of violence or legal action.

The Roman Empire

During the initial development of the Polycarp, chose to retain their beliefs and suffer persecution.

All the inhabitants of the empire were required to sacrifice before the magistrates of their community 'for the safety of the empire' by a certain day (the date would vary from place to place and the order may have been that the sacrifice had to be completed within a specified period after a community received the edict). When they sacrificed they would obtain a certificate (libellus) recording the fact that they had complied with the order.[2]


Christianity was introduced to Japan during its feudal era by Saint Francis Xavier in 1550. From the beginning, Christianity was seen as a threat to the power of the Shogun. In 1643, Christianity was banned, all churches were destroyed, all known Christians tortured and demanded to convert to Buddhism or face execution, and all signs of Christian influence were systematically eliminated. The ban was not lifted until 1858.

During this period, faithful converts moved underground into a crypto-Christian group called kakure Kirishitan or "hidden Christians". Crypto-Christian crosses and graves, cleverly styled during these two centuries to resemble Buddhist imagery, can still be seen in the Shimabara Peninsula, Amakusa islands and far south in Kagoshima.

Shusaku Endo's acclaimed novel Silence draws from the oral history of Japanese Catholic communities pertaining to the time of the suppression of the Church.

The Balkans and Asia Minor

Due to the religious strife that has marked the Balkan Peninsula and Anatolia, instances of crypto-Christian behavior are reported to this day in Muslim-dominated areas of the former Yugoslavia, Albania, and Turkey.[3] With the threat of retribution for the religious and ethnic conflicts, many Christian minority groups keep their religion private to protect themselves. Crypto-Christianity was mostly practiced following the Ottoman Turkish conquests of the Balkans, but the earliest scholarly record of the phenomenon dates to 1829. Linobamvaki in Cyprus trace their ancestry to both Catholics, Maronites and Greek Orthodox Christians who converted under Ottoman oppression.

Crypto-Armenians are believed to represent at least two groups of Armenians living in modern Turkey. One has been Islamized under the threat of physical extermination particularly during Armenian pogroms in 1896 and the Armenian Genocide of 1915. Representatives of a different, much smaller crypto-Armenian group live in separate villages inhabited by Turks and Kurds in Eastern Turkey (on the territories of traditional Armenian homeland). This group differs from the above mentioned "Islamized" type by the process and depth of Islamization.[4]

Middle East

In the first few centuries the Christian religion spread rapidly around the Mediterranean region with Egypt and Syria becoming especially important centers of the religion. Even as the Roman Empire disintegrated between the 5th and 7th centuries, the Christian faith only deepened in the Eastern Mediterranean. During the 7th century the Arab Empire took over what is now called the Middle East. Initially Christianity was well tolerated though preferential treatment was given to Muslims. However, often the only actually requirement for being considered a Muslim was to profess a belief in God and proclaim Mohammed as his prophet. As a result, many Egyptians, Syrians, and others in the region officially converted to Islam while still adhering to Christian practices.

As oppression of Christians arose under the Fatimid Caliph Al-Hakim, Christian (and Jewish) practices became more hidden. Secretive communities appeared in Egypt during the 11th century and in Morocco in the 12th century under the Almohads rule. Many Crypto-Christian communities existed in Middle-East till the 19th century, as Muslim authorities continued to tolerate minimal requirements of obedience by converts. From late 19th century onward most of crypto-religious groups disappear as a result of the rise of nationalism in the new Middle-Eastern states.[5]


Crypto-Greek Orthodox are reported to many parts of Asia Minor and in Ottoman occupied Balkans. A good account of the Cryptochristians of Pontos and bibliography regarding other places are given by F. W. Hasluck.[6]

In Turkish-ruled Cyprus there were distinct groups of Crypto-Christians known as Linobamvaki.

A minority of Crypto-Armenians continues to exist in modern Turkey. These "secret Armenians" outwardly blend in with their Kurdish or Turkish neighbours.

Soviet Russia and the Warsaw Pact

Many Christian communities in the Soviet sphere of influence during the Cold War had to go underground in so-called Catacomb Churches. After the break-up of the Warsaw Pact and the end of the Soviet era in the 1990s, some of these groups re-joined the official above-ground churches, but others continued their independent existence, believing the official churches had been irreconcilably tainted by their cooperation with the previous Soviet-supported regimes.

People's Republic of China

Chinese house churches are unregistered Christian churches in the People's Republic of China which operate independently of the official government-run religious institutions: the Three-Self Patriotic Movement (TSPM) and China Christian Council (CCC) for Protestants, and the Chinese Patriotic Catholic Association for Roman Catholics.

Nazi Germany

In a unique instance of crypto-Christianity occurring in a majority Christian nation, the underground Confessing Church consisted of German Christians who were opposed to the unified Protestant Reich Church that was consolidated under Adolf Hitler. While many of their leaders actively opposed Hitler's anti-Semitic policies, the Confessing Church itself only opposed state manipulation of religious affairs.

Intra-Christian cases

In addition to crypto-Christianity, where Christians practiced their faith secretly in an anti-Christian society, there have been instances of crypto-Catholics in Protestant territories where Catholicism was banned and heavily persecuted (such as England from 1558 - see Recusants), and the reverse in Catholic territories (such as French Huguenots after the Revocation of the Edict of Nantes).

Christian-derived practices

The term can be used to describe practices, stories and celebrations that are derived from Christian beliefs but have been modified, corrupted or their meaning lost. For instance, the legend of King Arthur can be seen as crypto-Christian, with its concepts of a returning king and a virtuous martyr. Some small Muslim sects have rituals and feasts whose meaning is crypto-Christian, some sociologists contend.

See also


External links

  • Centre for the Study of South Eastern Europe
  • The Turkish-Cypriot Community and the Cryptochristians
  • Proselytism and Crypto-Christians in Cyprus By Alkan Chaglar
  • The Catacomb Church
  • Russia's Catacomb Saints
  • Gizli Hristiyanlık - Crypto Chritianity at Pontus region (Turkish)
  • Crypto-Christians of the Trabzon Region of Pontos - Full article
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