Lying 15 kilometres east of Kampala off Jinja Road, Namugongo was formerly a place of execution of all people who committed grave offences in the kingdom of Buganda. It is here that 14 of the 22 Uganda Martyrs offered their life to Christ (burnt alive), on the orders of king Mwanga in 1886, having refused to denounce their Christian faith. Following the holocaust of these Martyrs which reached a climax on 3rd June, 1886 Namugongo has steadily taken on the image of attraction as a place of pilgrimage, as God simultaneously has honoured them before Believers.
On 6th June 1920 Pope Benedict XV beatified the Uganda Martyrs. Pope Paul VI canonized them on Mission Sunday, 8th October, 1964 in Saint Peter's Basilica, Rome. The same Pope honoured the Martyrs with a pilgrimage on 31st July to 2nd August 1969 - the first visit ever by a pope to the African Continent.
In 1935, 49 years after the holocaust, the Mill Hill Missionaries founded a Catholic Parish at Namugongo. They dedicated it to Our Lady Queen of the Martyrs.
The big imposing Shrine dominating Namugongo today stands exactly on the spot where the small original parish church stood and it is the same spot where Charles Lwanga was burnt alive.
Remembering the work executed by St. Charles Lwanga when still a page in King Mwanga's palace, when he spearheaded the excavation of the legendary Kabaka's lake at Mengo, a Martyrs' lake was excavated at Namugongo. Many pilgrims have often drawn water from this lake and later given testimonies about this water healing them of various diseases.
The Pavilion (Island) in the lake is another unique feature at Namugongo with a clear view that can be seen from all angles of the over 15 acres Shrine compound. It is inside this pavilion where the main celebrant sits on big occasions like Martyrs' day, June 3. This grass thatched pavilion, also in circular form like the Shrine is supported by 4 pillars and can accommodate more than 300 priests and a number of bishops that turn for the High Mass on Martyrs Day.