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.

While during the initial development of the Christian Church under the Roman Empire it did indeed often have to practice in secret, the term crypto-Christianity is not usually applied to that era.


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.


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, Greece, Albania, and Turkey . With the threat of retribution for the religious and ethnic conflicts, many Christian minority groups keep their religion private to protect themselves. Not a one-sided phenomenon, the practice is equally common for Muslims in the area as well who live as Crypto-Muslims.

Crypto-Christianity was mostly practiced following the Ottoman Turkish conquests of the Balkans, but the earliest scholarly record of the phenomenon dates to 1829.

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.

In modern Russia, the Russian Orthodox church, an ally of Vladimir Putin, has become the de facto state church, and members of other Christian denominations have faced increasing persecution.

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. When many of their leaders were incarcerated and sent to concentration camps, many Confessing Church members proceeded to worship privately or secretly in a crypto-Christian manner.

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), and the reverse in Catholic territories.

Other meanings

The term crypto-Christianity has been applied to other phenomena as well.

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.

Christian "aggression"

Crypto-Christianity in recent times has been used to describe allegedly devious practices by evangelical Christians operating in predominantly non-Christian nations. In this sense, it is used to describe evangelical groups who operate under the auspices of charity, aid or counseling services, but whose (allegedly) primary goal to gain new converts. The term is a politically charged one, and its acceptance or rejection by intellectuals and "experts" depends on their own personal leanings, as can be seen in intellectual discussion about the subject in India.

This term is usually used by culturally conservative non-Christian religious groups. These attacks are often accompanied by accusations of Christian aggression, a feared subversion of local faiths by aggressive Christian missionaries. Mainstream Hindu groups and political parties that are opposed to Christian influence in India have employed the term, and often accuse Christian missionaries of bribing local Hindus into converting to Christianity, though no substantive proof has ever been produced. However, Christian groups funded by Westerners have been known to provide money to poor people in order to buy food and medicine. It can be reasonably assumed some of these people then converted to Christianity after being helped, but the practice is distinct from the allegations which claim missionaries simply pay people to convert. However, the issue is now so mainstream, that restrictions on conversions from Hinduism to any religion besides Sikhism, Jainism, and Buddhism now exist in several Indian states - and some people who wish to convert must undertake a tiring and expensive process of petitioning the state government to change their documentation to reflect their conversions. It should be noted that the state government can, and often does, refuse petitions, effectively forbidding an official recognition of conversions out of Hinduism.

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