Seosomun Martyrs' Shrine in the Seosomun Historical Park in Jung-gu, central Seoul is seen in this photo. Pope Francis is scheduled to visit this shrine during his visit to Korea in August. / Korea Times photo by Baek Byung-yeul
By Baek Byung-yeul
The Roman Catholic began to spread in Korean Peninsula in 16th century when the trade between Western countries and Joseon Kingdom (1392-1910) became active.
Now it has became one of the major religions with more than five million believers, but it took many sacrifices for the Roman Catholic to take root among the people in early days as the Confucian ideas were deeply ingrained in Joseon in those days.
The Archdiocese of Seoul released a smartphone application through Google Play Store last year, introducing Catholic pilgrimages in Seoul where the largest numbers of Catholics had been persecuted, and it recently overhauled the previous version to commemorate Pope Francis's historic visit to Korea for five days from Aug. 14 to 18.
The application, titled "Catholic Pilgrimage Walks Seoul," suggests its users three pilgrimage routes, and it gives information of the sacred sites in detail when the users get to the each destination.
"There are many pilgrimages in Seoul many of us might pass by without knowing," Choi Yang-ho from the Archdiocese of Seoul said. "This map was designed for playing a role of guidance to pilgrims who visit Seoul's pilgrimages."
Whether you are Catholic pilgrims or not, tracing Seoul's pilgrimages using this application would be meaningful try because the courses are properly balanced with Seoul's popular tourist destinations such as Myeong-dong, Bukchon Hanok Village and more. From Myeong-dong to Hanok Village
Among the three recommended courses, the first route will probably be the most popular one as it encompasses Seoul's core tourist spots as well.
Starting from Myeongdong Cathedral located in country's busiest shopping district, Myeong-dong, downtown Seoul, the 9.6-kilometer-long route takes about five hours on foot.
The application introduces that the Myeongdong Cathedral was built in 1898 on the site where the first Korean Catholic community was formed. In the catacombs of the Cathedral, nine bodies of martyrs including five saints are situated.
Near the Cathedral, the house sites of Kim Beom-u, the first Catholic martyr in Korea and Yi Byeok, the first Korean to be baptized are located.
About two and a half kilometers from the Cathedral, there's a site of the Left Podocheong, Joseon's policing apparatus which took the role of tracking down Catholics of Joseon period. Including Kim Beom-u, a slew of pilgrims were martyred here. This area is now occupied by a police box in charge of the maintenance of public order of Jongno 3-ga area. Near the Left Podocheong site, there is Jongmyo Shrine (Royal Ancestral Shrine), which has been designated as a UNESCO World Heritage List in 1995.
Going along the path for about an hour from the Left Podocheong, there is the Catholic University of Korea's Songsin Theological Campus in Daehangno, Seoul's traditional street for performing arts. In the campus, the body of country's first priest, Saint Andrew Kim Tae-gon is enshrined.
From the Catholic University, it will be convenient to ride a bus to get to the last destination, Seokjeong Boreum Well, located near Bukchon Hanok Village near Changdeok Palace, where visitors can experience Korea's folk culture.
The historic stone well is known that Father James Zhou Wen-mo, the first foreign Catholic priest in Korea used the water when he baptized.
Yakhyeon Catholic Church, place for peace
The second recommendation route is shorter than the first one.
Beginning from Gahoe-dong Catholic Church near the Bukchon Hanok Village, the 5.65-kilometer-long pilgrimage walk will end at the Yakhyeon Catholic Church. Unlike the first route which crosses from west of downtown Seoul to east, the second course is located in a north-south direction of central Seoul and it takes about three and a half hours on foot.
The Gahoe-dong Catholic Church is known as the place where the country's first mass was held by Father James Zhou Wen-mo in 1795. On the first floor of the church, an exhibition hall showing the history of the Roman Catholic of Korea is installed.
Going down to the south, there is a site of Hyeongjo, Joseon's government body which took charge of lawsuits and punishments, right in front of the Sejong Center for the Performing Arts. Historic record says a number of Catholics were sent here under escort and died a martyr being brutally tortured.
One of the hidden treasures in this walking course will probably be the Seosomun Historical Park where the Catholic martyrs' shrine is located.
Situated near Chungjeongno Station, subway lines 2 and 5, the site of the park was used as an execution ground in the Joseon era while it currently provides a place to relax for residents. It became known to publics when Pope John Paul II canonized 103 Korean martyrs in 1984 because 44 of them died a martyr here. Pope Francis is also scheduled to visit this shrine during his visit to Korea in August.
Close by the Seosomun Park, there is the last destination of the second course ― Yakhyeon Catholic Church. It is situated in the grove which can be reached by walking up the hill by the park.
Designated as one of historic monuments of Korea, the church is known as the first Gothic style brick structure in Korea. Built in 1892, the Yakhyeon ("hill of herbs" in Korean) Church administers Catholic martyrs' shrine of the Seosomun Park and operates exhibition hall, honoring 44 martyrs.
For more information of Seoul's Catholic pilgrimages, visit Seoul city's official travelling guide web page at www.visitseoul.net or download smartphone application through Google Play Store.