Korean Martyrs were the subjects of religious persecution against the Christians during the 19th century in Korea. During the persecutions of 1839, 1846, 1866, and 1867, one hundred and three Christians in Korea gave their lives as martyrs and at least 8,000 adherents to the faith were known to have died. The martyrs included clergy, but were mostly the laity. They consecrated the rich beginnings of the Church in Korea with their blood. Among them were Fr. Andrew Kim of Taegon, the first Korean priest and pastor, and Paul Chong of Hasang, a lay apostle.
St. Andrew Kim Taegon was born into a noble Korean family.
He travelled to China to become a Catholic priest and he was ordained in Macao. When he returned to Korea, as the first native priest, he was arrested, tortured, and eventually beheaded. St. Paul Chong Hasang(1795-1839) was one of the lay leaders who have participated in the establishment of the early Korean Catholic Church. He was persecuted before he could be ordained.
During the persecution period, the Korea’s only priest, Chu, Moon Mo and many prominent leaders of the early Korean Catholic Church were martyred. After these incidents, it seemed impossible to reconstruct the devastated Korean Catholic community.
It was St. Paul Chong Hasang who assembled the scattered Korean Catholic members and ignited their hearts with the raging flames of faith. Furthermore, he reorganised the structures and activities of the Korean Catholic church and initiated a movement for the Beijing Bishop to send priests to Korea. There were four major persecutions.
At which time there were only 20,000 Catholics in Korea. More than 10,000 martyrs died in persecutions which extended over more than one hundred years. They had died in the persecutions of 1839 (Ki-hae persecution), 1846 (Pyong-o persecution) and 1866 (Pyong-in persecution).
Saint Kim Barbara was one of the prisoners who suffered great pain and died of disease while in prison. According to Hyon Sok-mum Charles in the “Diary of the Persecution of 1839”, over sixty people died of torture and disease in prison. Everyday life in the prison was terrible and unbearable as the pain of torture afflicted. There were many who bravely withstand all forms of torture, but finally gave in because of the hunger and thirst. Given no more than two fistfuls of rice a day, the prisoners were often reduced to eating the dirty straw they lay on.
Also, with a large number of people crammed into the small cells, it was inevitable that disease would break out and spread very quickly. Bishop Daveluy, who died as a martyr, wrote of the prison situation and his experiences: “Our Catholics were packed in so tightly that they could not even spread out their legs to sleep. Compared to the suffering of imprisonment the pain of torture was nothing. On top of everything else the stench from their rotting wounds was unbearable and in the heat typhoid would break out killing several in a few days. ”