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Kisosonkole: Kabaka's Grandfather Who Buried the Martyrs, Built First Church :: Uganda Radionetwork
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Kisosonkole: Kabaka's Grandfather Who Buried the Martyrs, Built First Church

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Kisosonkole’s steadfast commitment to the martyrs, some of whom were his colleagues in the service of the Kabaka, has firmly cemented his place in the history of the church, embodying principles of reverence and selflessness. However, his contributions are often underrated or not sufficiently acknowledged in retellings of the martyrs’ story.
15 May 2024 18:31
At the bottom line, Tefero Ssekkuuma Kisosonkole, a senior chief who would later become Katikkiro of Buganda, is depicted with a cap.
The account of the Uganda Martyrs, especially from the Anglican viewpoint, is incomplete without highlighting the significant role played by Tefero Ssekkuuma Kisosonkole, a senior chief who would later become Katikkiro of Buganda.

Kisosonkole’s steadfast commitment to the martyrs, some of whom were his colleagues in the service of the Kabaka, has firmly cemented his place in the history of the church, embodying principles of reverence and selflessness. However, his contributions are often underrated or not sufficiently acknowledged in retellings of the martyrs’ story.

Rev Esau Bbosa Kimanje, the Vicar of the Namugongo Anglican Martyrs Site, emphasizes that Kisosonkole's role was instrumental in the establishment of the site, which now draws thousands of pilgrims and visitors from far and wide.

"His contributions were extraordinary. He generously donated the land to the church, personally interred the martyrs' remains, and erected a church on this very spot," stated Rev Kimanje.

Kisosonkole was born to Ssekkuuma, a wealthy landowner and chief during the reign of Kabaka Mukaabya Walugembe Muteesa I and his successor, Bassamul’ekkere Mwanga II. As the norm of the time, Ssekkuuma sent his son to the royal court as a page. It was during Kisosonkole’s stay in the palace that the young Christian converts were purged and killed between 1885 and 1887.

Historical records indicate that Kisosonkole was among the Abasomi, or catechumens, but he fled before the purge, thus ensuring his survival to see another day.

During the purge, 45 Christian converts, including 23 Anglicans and 22 Catholics were killed in different places within Buganda. Of these, 26 individuals—13 Catholics and 13 Anglicans—were on June 3, 1886 bundled in reeds and burnt alive in the flames of Namugongo. Their martyrdom later became recognized in both denominations.

Bright Blacson, a tour guide at the Anglian Martyrs Museum, Nakiyanja-Namugongo, notes that after some time, Kisosonkole returned and visited the site where the 26 martyrs were burnt.

"He collected the remains of the burned victims. It's said that he initially took them to his residence in Kyambogo-Banda. Eventually, his family would acquire this land (at Nakiyanja-Namugongo). He then came back and buried their remains here and later constructed a church at the very spot where they were interred," Blacson narrated.

Described as a devout Christian, Kisosonkole donated 48 acres of land to accommodate the Anglican martyrs site and an additional 49 acres to the Catholic Church. However, his dedication to the faith did not detach him from his involvement in the leadership of the kingdom.

When Kabaka Mwanga was exiled to Seychelles Islands, Kisosonkole was appointed as one of the regents for the one-year-old Kabaka, Daudi Chwa II.

In 1927, he ascended to the position of Katikkiro, replacing long-serving Sir Apolo Kaggwa. Records indicate that around this time, Kisosonkole acquired a significant portion of land in Namugongo. The land, often described as his "mile" by some writers and oral historians, extended from Kyambogo, including the land currently occupied by the university, covering areas such as Ntinda, Naalya, Kira and Namugongo.

Later on, Kisosonkole married off of his two daughters, Damali Nakawombe Kisosonkole and Sarah Nalule Kisosonkole, to Kabaka Frederick Edward Walugembe Muteesa II, succeeded Chwa II in 1939 and reigned until 1966 when kingdoms were abolished. This union made him the grandfather of the reigning Kabaka, Ronald Muwenda Mutebi II.

The Church, The Museum

With the 22 Catholic martyrs beatified in June 1920, Namugongo began to attract Christians, starting with a Catholic group from Nsambya led by Fr. Stephen Walters. In a 2022 interview, Rt. Rev. Dr. Fred Sheldon Mwesigwa, Bishop of Ankole Diocese noted that Anglicans were slower to embrace the issue compared to their Catholic counterparts due to doctrinal teachings and differences.

Catholics acquired the land where they constructed a church. In 1934, the construction of the church at the site where St. Charles Lwanga was martyred started. A year later, Kisosonkole also embarked on constructing a church at the site where he had buried the remains of the 26 martyrs.

Although the first church constructed by the Catholics was demolished to make way for the construction of a new one in 1967, the church at the Anglican site is still standing.

"The church was preserved. When the museum was built in the area, this church was preserved inside, and up to now, it is used by Anglicans and Catholics for Services and Mass, respectively," noted Rev. Kimanje.

The said chapel, famously known as the Kisosonkole Chapel, is a small rectangular building measuring approximately 10 by 20 feet. It contains six pews and can accommodate around 36 people. Inside the chapel lies the mass grave of the 26 martyrs, with a tombstone inscribed with the names of those interred.

Above the left door of the chapel hangs a frame with a photo of Kisosonkole and an artistic impression depicting how the site will look after the redevelopment plans envisioned by the late Archbishop Livingstone Mpalanyi Nkoyooyo.

There is also a caption reading: "Tefero Kisosonkole donated 48 acres of land to the Anglican C.O.U Namugongo. He gathered the ashes and remains of the martyrs, stored them, and later buried them in a mass grave in which sits the altar of the first church that he built; it is the site of the museum."

Kisosonkole's portrait also graces the walls of the museum, painted alongside Archbishop Nkoyooyo. They are positioned below three other portraits of men whose significant contributions to Christianity in Uganda are undoubted - Alexander Mackay, Apolo Kivebulaaya, and Pere Mapeera. Mackay was among the first Anglican missionaries to come to Uganda while Kivebulaaya extended the church to Western Uganda and Congo.

Within the chapel, a pulpit stands near the left door, a donation from Kabaka Mutesa II, son-in-law to Kisosonkole. This pulpit has been the site where countless preachers have delivered homilies about the martyrs over the decades, further cementing the chapel's significance as a place of reverence and remembrance.

Kisosonkole died in 1945.