Charles Yi Gyeong-do (1780-1802)
Charles Yi Gyeong-do, also called `O-hui`, was born in 1780 to a famous scholarly family in Seoul. His grandfather was the magistrate of Yeon-gi, Chungcheong-do. His father Matthew Yi Yun-ha was a disciple of Yi Ik who was a renowned scholar of that time and his maternal grandfather. His mother was the sister of Francis Xavier Kwon Il-sin, one of the Founders of the Catholic Church in Korea.
Lutgarda Yi Sun-i who was martyred in 1801 in Jeonju was his younger sister, and Paul Yi Gyeong-eon who died a martyr in 1827 in the Jeonju prison was his younger brother.
Instructed by his parents when he was young, Charles Yi practiced his religion faithfully. Meek and generous by nature, he showed exceptional talent in learning and studied religious books with passion. He was a hunchback due to illness in his childhood, but God gave him a noble personality and deep faith to balance his physical disability.
His father died in 1793, and as the eldest son, he was obliged to participate in traditional rites. However he was wise enough to perform a funeral service for his father without deviating from the teaching of the Church.
He tried to avoid being too friendly with non-Catholics and devoted himself to instructing his family to be good Catholics. He formed a community of the faithful with Thomas Choe Pil-gong and Protase Hong Jae-yeong to study the doctrine of the Church.
In 1796, after consultation with his mother, Charles Yi allowed his sister Lutgarda Yi to marry John Yu Jung-cheol from Jeonju and to live as a virgin couple. Relatives, who were non-believers, criticized him when they heard about the news, but he settled the matter wisely.
When the Shinyu Persecution broke out in 1801, Charles Yi was arrested by the police and suffered from severe interrogation and torture at the Police Headquarters and the Justice Ministry. But he never denied his religion. Whenever the chief official interrogated him, he made false statements saying, "I do not know any Catholics, and all the religious books were burnt." He signed the written sentence of his death penalty. On the day prior to his execution, he wrote the following letter to his mother from prison:
"The sins I committed during my lifetime have reached heaven. My heart is so insensible that I do not know how to repent my sins properly and weep. Though the mercy of God is unlimited I am ashamed that I am a sinner. If God leads me with His loving hands, I will neither regret nor worry though I have to die ten thousand times."
Charles Yi was taken outside the Small West Gate or Saenamteo in Seoul with other Catholics and was beheaded. He died a martyr on January 29, 1802 (December 26, 1801 by the Lunar calendar). Charles Yi was 22 years old.