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Monday, 1 July 2013

Hallelujah Korea, Part II: Jeoldusan Martyr Shrine, Seoul Mapo-gu - The Place where Korean Catholics were Brutally Persecuted

Index prayed for St. Andrew Kim Dae-geon and his followers in this shrine.
Jeoldusan (Hangul/Hanja: 절두산/切頭山; literally as Decapitation Mountain) is the place where up to 2000 Korean Catholics were executed during Byeongin Catholic Persecution (1866) following a decree, signed by Regent Heungseon Daewongun (Emperor Gojong’s father), to kill all Catholics. The victims’ bodies were thrown into the nearby Han River, and only 40 of their names are known. Jeoldusan is also known as Jamdubong (잠두봉/蠶頭峰; literally as Silkworm Head Peak). It is located at 6 Tojeong Avenue/Tojeongno, Hapjeong-dong 96-1 beonji, Seoul Mapo-gu

The museum has books, diaries and relics of the early Catholic converts, some of whom were martyred and became saints. The displays have English descriptions. Downstairs are mementoes of Pope John Paul II’s visit here in 1984. Steadfast early Christian converts faced waves of government persecution, but they refused to recant their new faith. 

Inside Catholic churches, yangban nobles and ordinary folk sat together as equals in the sight of God, an act that challenged the rigid Confucian hierarchy of Joseon society. Outside the museum are gruesome details of the tortures early Catholics were subjected to by the government, who regarded them as dangerous heretics. Their arms and legs were bent and broken, they were beaten with heavy sticks and hung up in trees by their long hair (in those days all Korean males wore their hair long and tied up in a topknot).

Next to the museum is a stark, white memorial chapel. Masses are held at 10am daily and also at 3pm except on Mondays. The singing is beautiful. Walk down to the garden from the museum and turn right towards the Han River. Go down the steps and turn right to see the cliffs that the dead bodies of the martyrs were thrown from. The river was higher in those days. Carry on past the cliffs, turn right up the steps and on the right is a memorial sculpture.

First Native Korean Catholic Priest: Saint Andrew Kim Dae-geon
Saint Andrew Kim Dae-geon (김대건 안드레아, Hanja: 金大建) (Born: 1821 – Martyred: 1846), was the first Korean-born Catholic priest and is the patron saint of Korea. In the late 18th century, Roman Catholicism began to take root slowly in Korea, and was introduced by laypeople. It was not until 1836 that Korea saw its first consecrated missionaries (members of the Paris Foreign Missions Society) arrive, only to find out that the people there were already practicing Catholicism.

Born of yangban, Kim's parents were converts and his father was subsequently martyred for practising Christianity, a prohibited activity in heavily Confucian Korea. After being baptized at age 15, Kim studied at a seminary in the Portuguese colony of Macau. He also spent time in study at Lolomboy, Bulacan, Philippines, where a statue of his stands in a village. He was ordained a priest in Shanghai after nine years (1844) by the French bishop Jean Joseph Ferréol. He then returned to Korea to preach and evangelize. During the Joseon Dynasty, Christianity was suppressed and many Christians were persecuted and executed. Catholics had to covertly practise their faith. Kim was one of several thousand Christians who were executed during this time. In 1846, at the age of 25, he was tortured and beheaded near Seoul on the Han River. His last words were:
"This is my last hour of life, listen to me attentively: if I have held communication with foreigners, it has been for my religion and for my God. It is for Him that I die. My immortal life is on the point of beginning. Become Christians if you wish to be happy after death, because God has eternal chastisements in store for those who have refused to know Him."

Before Ferréol, the first Bishop of Korea, died from exhaustion on the third of February, 1853, he wanted to be buried beside Kim, stating, “You will never know how sad I was to lose this young native priest. I have loved him as a father loved his son; it is a consolation for me to think of his eternal happiness.”

On May 6, 1984, Pope John Paul II canonized Kim along with 102 other Korean Martyrs, including Paul Jeong Ha-sang, during his trip to Korea. Their memorial is September 20.