This small, carved wooden figurine represents Kannon Maria: the Virgin Mary disguised as the bodhisattva Kannon, known as the Bodhisattva of Compassion. The statue comes from the island of Kyūshū, Japan, where Kakure Kirishitans ("hidden Christians") practiced their faith in secret, in fear of persecution. Her long sleeves obscure her hands, and there is a long sash tied in a bow at her waist. On the back of the figure's robe is a carved Christian cross. Kannon Maria wears a headdress of sorts, perhaps to resemble the crown bearing an image of the Amida Buddha that usually adorns Kannon. The rendering of her face shows a foreign influence. The wood is blackened from the incense that was burned in front of it.
The first known appearance of organized Christianity in Japan was the arrival of the Portuguese Catholics in 1549. Under the shōgun Oda Nobunaga (1534-1582), the Jesuit missionaries prospered, but under Nobunaga's successor, Toyotomi Hideyoshi (1536-1598) and the Tokugawa shogunate (1600-1868), Christianity fell out of favor with the government. Catholic Christianity was repressed and adherents were persecuted, at times executed, and often crucified. Following a series of rebellions, culminating in the Shimabara Rebellion, Christians were forced to publicly renounce their faith; many, however, continued to practice Christianity in secret, in modern times becoming known as the Kakure Kirishitan, or "hidden Christians." These secret Christians would often conceal Christian iconography within closed shrines, lanterns, or inconspicuous parts of buildings, and worshipped in secret rooms of private homes. As time went on, the figures of the saints were transformed into figurines that looked like the traditional statues of the Buddha and bodhisattvas. Disguising the Virgin Mary as the bodhisattva Kannon was a popular choice; depictions of Kannon holding a child were already common, so it was a natural transition. It was not until after the Meiji Restoration that freedom of religion was introduced in 1871, giving all religious communities the right to legal existence and preaching.