Martin Yi Jung-bae (1751?-1801)
Martin Yi Jung-bae was born in Yeoju, Gyeonggi-do to a noble family. He was strong and courageous and had a cheerful character, but, at the same time, he was quite violent and hot tempered. However, his temperament changed completely after he became a Catholic.
Martin Yi heard about the Catholic religion, for the first time, in 1797 from Josaphat Kim Geon-sun who was a close friend of his cousin John Won Gyeong-do. Martin Yi quickly accepted Catholic teaching and taught it to his father and wife. He stopped offering ancestral rites, as directed by the teaching of the Church, and eagerly professed his faith in God without fear, as he was brave by nature.
On Easter Sunday in 1800, Martin Yi went to visit a friend together with his cousin John. They prayed the Angelus and sang hymns together. At that time, the magistrate of Yeoju, who was determined to root out the Catholic religion from his region, was informed about the prayer meeting. Upon receiving the report, the magistrate immediately dispatched police to arrest the Catholics at their prayer meeting.
As soon as Martin Yi and the other believers were taken to the government office, the police interrogated and tortured them to force them to betray God. However, even under such harsh treatment they stood firm in their faith and the others were inspired by the courage and heroism showed by Martin Yi.
Martin Yi was put in prison for six months during which time he endured severe interrogations and torture. Despite that he never lost courage and remained strong. He also encouraged the other Catholics to persevere in their faith. When the elderly female servant of his cousin John visited prison to try to persuade him to recant, he scolded her severely and asked her to return home. Martin Yi encourage his father with the following words:
“Dear father, I am not forgetting the duty of filial piety. You are a Catholic too. if you consider it from this special perspective, you will not renounce God our Father because of human affection."
Martin Yi had some knowledge of medicine, but the medical knowledge he demonstrated in prison was something very unusual. It was more like miracle working that could not be explained in human words. The prison was crowded with people who came to see him and everybody was amazed by the results of his treatment.
In October 1800, Martin Yi and his Catholic companions were transferred to the Gyeonggi governor's office, where he underwent severe interrogation and torture. As the Shinyu Persecution broke out the following year, the governor of Gyeonggi called them out for interrogation and torture, all the time trying to force them to betray God. Martin Yi and his companions did not succumb but overcame temptations by encouraging one another.
The governor asked them to write their final statements and submitted them to the royal court which ordered that the accused 'be sent to their hometown to be executed in order to turn people against the Catholic religion'. Subsequently, Martin Yi and his companions were transferred to Yeoju, their hometown. There they were beheaded and died as martyrs on April 25, 1801 (March 13 by the lunar calendar). Martin Yi was about 50 years old.
The following is an excerpt from the written death sentence that was submitted to the royal court:
"He was so deeply imbued with the Catholic religion that he destroyed the ancestral tablet. Therefore he deserves death ten thousand times."