Oil dedicated to martyr St Yu Tae-Chol Peter on prayer cloth
The first Korean priest Fr Andrew Kim Taegon was executed in 1846 aged only 25. Other martyrs included Paul Chong Hasang and his father Augustine, St Yu Tae-Chol Peter.
Although few know about these historical events outside Korean Christian circles up to 8,000 Catholics were martyred. During persecutions in Korea in the 19th century in the last great period of oppression.
In May 1984, 103 martyrs were canonised and this month the Catholic Church in South Korea is holding a “month of martyrs”. With the support of Pope Francis. The first conversions in the traditionally Confucian country began in the late 19th century. Around the time when the first Christian books written in Chinese were imported in 1777.
By the time a Chinese priest arrived at the end of the century he found about 4,000 Catholics. None of whom had ever seen a priest. The faith had been maintained by aristocratic laymen. The only people who could read at the time who had sent a delegation on foot 750 miles to Peking. Asking for a priest.
What especially irked traditional Koreans was that this new faith seemed to undermine class distinctions, encouraging the poor to mingle with their betters. By the time the persecutions had ended in 1866, there were only 20,000 Catholics left in the country, while the vast majority of martyrs were lay people
Seventy-nine of the martyrs of 1839 were beatified in 1925, while another 24 were beatified in 1968. John Paul II canonised all 103 martyrs in Seoul in 1984..