Korea's Religious Places - 3.2 Yakhyeon Cathedral, Seoul
|Understanding Korea Series No.6|
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|1)* Myeong-dong Cathedral, Seoul||2)* Yakhyeon Cathedral, Seoul||3)* Incheon Dapdong Cathedral, Incheon|
Yakhyeon Cathedral (Seoul)
Older than the more famous Myeong-dong Cathedral is the Yakhyeon Cathedral (Jungnim-dong Cathedral), located about two kilometers west of Myeong-dong. Construction began in 1891 and was completed in 1892, the year they began construction of the larger Myeong-dong building. The Yakhyeon Cathedral was the first Western-style church built in Korea, and like the Myeong-dong Cathedral is built in classic Gothic style. The Yakhyeon Cathedral is more directly associated with the legacy of martyrdom of the earlier Catholic efforts in Korea. On the one hand, it was built at the outset of the new era of religious freedom in Korea, brought about by the success of the Protestants in 1884. When they were able to convince the king of their good intentions, the Catholics also benefited, and King Gojong himself assisted in the groundbreaking for the cathedral. It was built near the site of the martyrdom of some of the early Korean saints, and indeed, near the cathedral is a memorial park dedicated to the memory of the martyrs.
Like the Myeong-dong Cathedral, named for the area of Seoul it occupies, the Yakhyeon Cathedral is also named for its neighborhood. Yakhyeon means “hillside of medicine,” or medicinal herbs; so named because of the herbs that once grew naturally on the hillside. At the foot of the hill are the Seosomun execution grounds where criminals were executed during the Joseon Dynasty, including the Catholics who were executed for their faith. Of the 103 Korean saints, forty-four were executed at the Seosomun site, which was at the time just outside the city walls of Seoul. Others were executed in various places including a large number at Mt. Jeoldusan, literally the “hill for beheading,” located on the banks of the Hangang River, another few kilometers west of the Seosomun-Yakhyeon area.
The structure has changed over the years. The steeple was built and the bell installed in 1905. The interior was remodeled in 1921, and there was a complete renovation in 1974. Then the whole church was burned down, but rebuilt in 2000 along the lines of the original configuration of the 1892 structure. Although it bears many architectural features of the original church, they have changed one aspect of the chapel. It used to have a curtain running down the middle of the chapel to separate the genders, as was the custom in many churches in bygone days. Now there is no curtain and the separation of the genders is no longer a feature of worship at the Yakhyeon Cathedral.