Painting at Jeju Island shrine
|Died||1839, 1846, 1866|
|Honored in||Roman Catholicism
|Canonized||May 6, 1984, Yeouido, Seoul, South Korea by Pope John Paul II|
The Korean Martyrs were the victims of religious persecution against Catholic Christians during the 19th century in Korea. At least 8,000 adherents to the faith were killed during this period, 103 of whom were canonized en masse in May 1984.
At the end of the 18th century Korea was a country ruled by the Joseon Dynasty. It was a society based on Confucianism with its hierarchical, class relationships. There was a small minority of privileged scholars and nobility while the majority were commoners paying taxes, providing labour and manning the military. Below them was the slave class. Even though it was scholars who first introduced the Gospel to Korea it was the ordinary people who flocked to the new religion. The new believers called themselves "Chonju kyo udul" literally "friends of the teaching of God of Heaven". The term "friends" was the only term in the Confucian understanding of relationships which implied equality.
During the early 17th century, Christian literature written in Chinese was imported from China to Korea. On one of these occasions, around 1777, Christian literature obtained from Jesuits in China led educated Korean Christians to study. Although no Koreans were converted to Catholicism by these books until the last quarter of the eighteenth century, the ideas of the Catholic priests espoused in them were debated and denounced as heterodox as early as 1724.
A home Church began. When a Chinese priest managed to enter secretly a dozen years later, he found 4,000 Catholics, none of whom had ever seen a priest. The dynamic Catholic communities were led almost entirely by educated lay people of the aristocratic classes, as they were the only ones who could read the books that were written in Hanja.
The Christian community sent a delegation on foot to Beijing, 750 miles away, to ask the Bishop of Beijing to send them bishops and priests. Eventually, two Chinese priests were sent, but their ministry was short-lived, and another forty years passed before the Paris Foreign Mission Society began its work in Korea with the arrival of Father Mauban in 1836. Paul Chong Hasang, Augustine Yu Chin-gil and Charles Cho Shin-chol had made several visits to Beijing in order to find ways of introducing missionaries into Korea. Since the persecution of 1801, there had been no priest to care for the Christian community. Serious dangers awaited the missionaries who dared to enter Korea. The bishops and priests who confronted this danger, as well as the lay Christians who aided and sheltered them, were in constant threat of losing their lives.
Bishop Laurent Imbert and ten other French missionaries were the first Paris Foreign Mission Society priests to enter Korea and to embrace a different culture. During the daytime, they kept in hiding, but at night they travelled about on foot attending to the spiritual needs of the faithful and administering the sacraments. The first Korean priest, Andrew Kim Taegon, succeeded in entering Korea as a missionary. However, thirteen months after his ordination he was put to death by the sword at the age of 26.
The Catholics gathering in one place with no distinction on the basis of class were perceived to undermine 'hierarchical Confuciansim', the ideology which held the State together. The new learning was seen to be subversive of the establishment and this gave rise to systematic suppression and persecution. The suffering the believers endured is well known through official documents which detail trials and the sentences. There were four major persecutions - the last one in 1866, at which time there were only 20,000 Catholics in Korea. 10,000 had died. Those figures give a sense of the enormous sacrifice of the early Korean Catholics. (Other Christian denominations did not enter Korea until sometime later). The vast majority of the martyrs were simple lay people, including men and women, married and single, old and young.
More than 10,000 martyrs died in persecutions which extended over more than one hundred years. Of all these martyrs, seventy-nine were beatified in 1925. They had died in the persecutions of 1839 (Ki-hae persecution), 1846 (Pyong-o persecution) and 1866 (Pyong-in persecution). In addition, twenty-four martyrs were beatified in 1968. All together, 103 martyrs were canonized by Pope John Paul II on May 6, 1984. In a break with tradition, the ceremony did not take place in Rome, but in Seoul.Their feast day is September 20. Currently, Korea has the 4th largest number of saints in the Catholic world.
From the last letter of Andrew Kim Taegŏn to his parish as he awaited martyrdom with a group of twenty persons:
- My dear brothers and sisters, know this: Our Lord Jesus Christ upon descending into the world took innumerable pains upon and constituted the holy Church through his own passion and increases it through the passion of its faithful....Now, however, some fifty or sixty years since the holy Church entered into our Korea, the faithful suffer persecutions again. Even today persecution rages, so that many of our friends of the same faith, among whom I am myself, have been thrown into prison....Since we have formed one body, how can we not be saddened in our innermost hearts? How can we not experience the pain of separation in our human faculties?
- However, as Scripture says, God cares for the least hair of our heads, and indeed he cares with his omniscience; therefore, how can persecution be considered as anything other than the command of God, or his prize, or precisely his punishment?...We are twenty here, and thanks be to God all are still well. If anyone is killed, I beg you not to forget his family. I have many more things to say, but how can I express them with pen and paper? I make an end to this letter. Since we are now close to the struggle, I pray you to walk in faith, so that when you have finally entered into Heaven, we may greet one another. I leave you my kiss of love.
In the early 1870's, Father Claude-Charles Dallet compiled a comprehensive history of the Catholic Church in Korea., largely from the manuscripts of martyred Bishop Antoine Daveluy. The Korean Martyrs were known for the staunchness, sincerity, and number of their converts. Protestant missionary E.H.Parker observed that "Coreans, unlike Chinese and Japanese, make the most staunch and devoted converts....
According to Ernst Oppert, An observation, founded upon many years' experience, may not be out of place here, and that is, that among all Asiatic nationalities there is probably none more inclined to be converted to Christianity than the Corean....He becomes a Christian from conviction, not from any mercenary motives. Bishop and martyr Simeon Francois Berneux wrote, The Corean possesses the most perfect dispositions for receiving the faith. Once convinced, he accepts and attaches himself to it, in spite of all sacrifices it may cost him.
Rev. Francis Goldie stated, Certainly few countries, if any, have to tell of such a painful apostolate, or of one which has had such success. Japan alone in later days can boast a martyrology at all to compare with that of Corea in the number of the slain, or in the heroism of those who died for Christ.
Individual martyrs 
- Andrew Kim Taegon and his father Ignatius
- Paul Chong Hasang and his father Augustine
- Laurent Imbert, a bishop
- Siméon-François Berneux, a bishop
- Antoine Daveluy, a bishop
- seven priests, members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society
- Peter Yu Tae-chol, a 13-year-old boy
- Mary Yi Yon-hui
- Anna Pak Agi
- Thomas Son Chason
- John Baptist Yi
- John Yi Yun-il
- Stephen Min Kuk-ka
Korean martyrs in Japan 
- Blessed Caius of Korea
"The Korean Church is unique because it was founded entirely by lay people. This fledgling Church, so young and yet so strong in faith, withstood wave after wave of fierce persecution. Thus, in less than a century, it could boast of 10,000 martyrs. The death of these martyrs became the leaven of the Church and led to today's splendid flowering of the Church in Korea. Even today their undying spirit sustains the Christians in the Church of silence in the north of this tragically divided land" (Blessed John Paul II, speaking at the canonization).
Korean Martyrs Museum-Shrine 
The Museum-Shrine, which contains rooms for liturgical celebration and prayer, was built in 1967 on the site in Jeoldusan where many of the Korean martyrs died from 1866 to 1873. The Shrine-Museum presents numerous historical documents, visual reconstructions, photographs and documentaries. The Christian community suffered harsh persecutions, especially in the second half of the 1800s. In 2004 the Archdiocese of Seoul opened its investigation into the cause for beatification of the Servant of God Paul Yun Ji-Chung and his 123 companions who in 1791 were tortured and killed “in odium fidei,” in hatred of the faith.
See also 
- Christianity in Korea
- Roman Catholicism in South Korea
- Catholic Persecution of 1801
- Robert Jermain Thomas
- O'Keefe SCC, Fr. Donal, "Columban Homily on Feast of Korean Martyrs"
- Foley OFM, Leonard, "Andrew Kim Taegon, Paul Chong Hasang and Companions", Saint of the Day, Lives, Lessons, and Feast, Franciscan Media, ISBN 978-0-86716-887-7
- Baker, Don (1999). "Catholicism in a Confucian World." In Culture and the State in Late Choson Korea. Edited by Haboush and Beuchler. Cambridge: Harvard University Asia Center, p. 201.
- "Stories of the Lives of the 103 Korean Martyr Saints", Catholic Bishop's Conference of Korea
- Parker, Edward Harper (1897). "Personal reminiscences touching Christian missionaries in China, Corea, Burma, etc. by a non-Catholic." In The Dublin Review, vol. 120, p. 368.
- Oppert, Ernst (1880). A forbidden land: voyages to the Corea, p. 84.
- Pichon, Frédéric (1872). The life of monseigneur Berneux, p. 132.
- Goldie, Francis (1875). "Chronicles of Catholic missions: IV. The early days of the Corean Church." In The Month and Catholic Review, vol. 5, p. 211.
- "Korean Martyrs Museum-Shrine reopens in Seoul", Catholic News Agency, September 15, 2009
- Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John (1993). The Penguin Dictionary of Saints. 3rd edition. New York: Penguin Books. ISBN 0-14-051312-4.
- Dallet, Charles (1874). Histoire de l'Église de Corée, Volume 1. Paris: Librairie Victor Palmé. (French)
- Dallet, Charles (1874). Histoire de l'Église de Corée, Volume 2. Paris: Librairie Victor Palmé. (French)
- Fathers of the London Oratory (1859). The New Glories of the Catholic Church. London: Richardson and Son.
- Homily of Pope John Paul II given for the Mass for the canonization of the Korean martyrs
- List and brief description of martyrs