Korea's Religious Places - 3.1 Myeong-dong Cathedral, Seoul
|Understanding Korea Series No.6|
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|3. Christianity||1)* Myeong-dong Cathedral, Seoul||2)* Yakhyeon Cathedral, Seoul|
Myeong-dong Cathedral (Seoul)
The most important cathedral of the Catholic Church in Korea is the Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception, more commonly known as the Myeong-dong Cathedral, in downtown Seoul. On a hill overlooking the city center, at the time it was built, it was the largest building in Korea. It is the headquarters of the Catholic Church in Korea and the seat of the archbishop. The church is built in classic Gothic style and the inside is decorated in religious art and sculpture with beautiful stained-glass windows.
The cathedral stands as a symbol of the martyrdoms and sufferings of the early Catholic efforts in Korea. At the time the cathedral was built, from 1892 to 1898, Korea had already suffered a century of martyrdom. The court saw Catholicism as a challenge to its authority and led waves of arrests and persecutions throughout the nineteenth century. The relics of nine of those martyrs are buried in the crypt of the Myeong-dong Cathedral, located beneath the main altar of the sanctuary.
By the time the Myeong-dong Cathedral was completed, the Korean court had reversed itself and was supportive of Christianity. This became more important in the light of the growing Japanese pressure on Korea. This led to Korean Christianity coming to be identified with nationalism and as a pro-Korean force in a changing and uncertain world.
Later, during the fight for democracy under the military regimes from the 1960s to the 1980s, the Myeong-dong Cathedral was the focal point of many protests against the government. Kim Dae-jung (1924–2009), the leader of many of the opposition movements and later the president of Korea from 1998 to 2003, was the most visible of Catholic political figures. Often, during political protests against the authoritarian governments, demonstrators would take sanctuary from the authorities by hiding in various Catholic churches throughout Korea, including the Myeong-dong Cathedral. Now, in an age of full and open democracy, the Catholic Church is seen as the vanguard of a heritage of religious freedom in Korea.