During the reign of King Mwanga II, 45 documented martyrs and many more were ordered to be killed by the King from 1885 to 1887. Their crime was their refusal to deny their faith. On 3rd June 1886, 32 young men, most of whom were pages at the royal court, were burned to death at the orders of the king. Since then, this day has been commemorated and millions gather annually at Namugongo to honor the faith of the Uganda Martyrs.
Pope John Paul II beautified the martyrs of the Catholic faith in October 2002.
The Uganda Martyrs’ Shrine is currently a Roman Catholic minor basilica located in Kira Municipality, Wakisa district. Its construction was completed in 1968 and is set amid 15 acres of serene environs that include a lake with a man-made island. The distinctive conical structure of the basilica topped by a white pinnacle is supported by 22 copper pillars in honor of the Catholic martyrs. The structure is reminiscent of a traditional African hut. Its heavily carved doors, artwork and sculptures in the gardens depict the martyrs’ sacrifice.
The Basilica has been honored by two Papal pilgrimages – Pope Paul VI in August 1969 and recently Pope Francis in November 2015.