Myeongdong Cathedral

By Anna Nazharina P. Tan

Are you familiar with Go Mi Nam and Hwang Tae Kyung? For the Korean drama fanatics out there, you may already know what drama I am talking about. But, for some who have no idea what I am saying, it’s non other than the Korean drama series He’s Beautiful which was aired last 2009. This was a story of a woman who is already all set to becoming a nun but then due to some conflicts, had to pretend to be his twin brother. She agreed to that as she does not want forsake her brother’s career. There was a scene where Go MiNam had to go see their Mother Superior to ask for advice about her current situation and their meeting place was in front of a church. The church featured in that scene was the Myeongdong Cathedral. Although I have watched the series a long time ago, I’ve only paid attention to their setting recently.

Father Eugene Jean Georges Coste of the Parish Foreign Mission Society designed the Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception in Myeongdong also known as Myeongdong Cathedral. The construction of the Cathedral started as early as 1892 and was completed in May 1898.  It is just sad that the main architect of the building was not able to see the finished product because he died two years prior to the completion of the Cathedral.

However, his subordinate, the Norman priest Father Victor Louis Poisnel took over and continued his masterpiece. It was built during the Joseon Dynasty in spite of persecutions by the Joseon government resulting in many Catholics being martyred. The cathedral is the spiritual center ofKorea’s Catholic community and a fortification inKorea’s democratization movement.

Myeongdong Cathedral is located at the shopping district of Myeongdong in Jung-gu,Seoul,South Korea. So maybe after visiting the church, you can stroll down the place, eat, shop or do whatever you want to do. It is fascinating though that despite the busy streets in Myeongdong neighborhood, there stands a gothic revival building that serves as the symbol of Christianity in Korea.

The church has a Latin cross plan with three hallways and it follows all the basics of Gothic construction. Although the style is Gothic, there is not much ornamentation seen but for a Korean church, it is rather ornate, particularly the bell tower.  Therefore, it is not like the Gothic churches from before that was really elaborate and decorated. The main building is about 23m high while the bell tower rises up to 45m making it stand out from the other buildings. It is tall and it will make you feel small when you are already inside.

Different from other gothic architectures, Myeongdong   Cathedral was built using bricks instead of stones. However, the color and shapes of the bricks used were varied. According to an article, twenty types of bricks in two colors – red and gray, were used in the construction, for a much more beautiful effect. The use of bricks as an alternative of stone results in a unique use of space in the interior. It gives the cathedral a very different atmosphere.

At the entrance of the cathedral, there is a statue of Jesus that invites one to go in and see the interior of the church. The pair of bronze door that serves as the main entrance to the church depicts the early Korean church history. Once inside, one gets to view the high, traditional vaulted ceiling that is flanked by two aisles, the ceiling that employs rib vaulting, grand inner pillars, the stained glass windows and the lavish altar in contrast with the modern air-­conditioning and the TV screens.

The ceilings inside the church and the arches in between the magnificent inner pillars show the beautiful Gothic style well. In the altar/apse, there are the portraits of the twelve disciples of Christ. Underneath the altar is a small crypt chapel where one will see colorful and sacred holy. It is a holy place because it contains the remains of the saints and martyrs who committed their lives to the spread of Catholicism in Korea. The remains of nine saints and martyrs are currently enshrined here. The second story features symmetrical loggias or corridors and a railing with round-shaped ornamentation.

One look and you can say that this architecture is Gothic. From the pointed bell tower (Spire), to the pointed arched window frames, stained glass art, even to the quatrefoil motifs, the cross-shaped ground-plan, the nave, aisle, apse, ambulatory and crypt up to the rib vaulting in the ceiling, it is so gothic. Need I say more?

In the future, when I get the chance to visit Seoul, I will add this to my destination. It is actually my first time knowing that this church has a significant role to all the Roman Catholic community in Korea. At first, I only want to explore the different temples in Korea, but now I would also want to experience the ‘Christianity’ there and compare it to our very own San Sebastian Church here in Manila. I do hope that our church will also be acknowledged and be given a chance to be restored just like the Myeongdong Cathedral because I believe that we should value whatever we have right now.  It is one of the things that we can pass on to the future generations.