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Thursday, 18 September 2014

Hallelujah Korea, Part XIV: Seosomun Martyr Shrine, Seoul Jung-gu - A shrine inside Seosomun Park

Seosomun Martyrs’ Shrine (Hangul: 서소문순교성지) which is located inside Seosomun Park at 5 Chilpae Avenue/Chilpae-ro, Uijuro 2-ga 16-beonji, Seoul Jung-gu occupies a central place in the history of Catholicism in Korea. During the 19th century, an estimated 10,000 Catholics were martyred across the country as a crackdown on Catholicism intensified amid power struggles, foreign intervention, and ideological conflict that put the converts at odds with the reigning Joseon state. 

The four-way street right in front of the Seosomun Gate area was once an official execution ground in the Joseon Era. It was also called “Sigumun/시구문,” literally meaning “the gate where dead bodies were carried out.” The corpses travelling through the gate scared many people, alerting the public to keep away from criminal acts and actions against the royal regime. 

Many Catholics who were executed during this period lived out their final moments in front of Seosomun, one of eight historic gates surrounding Hanyang, the capital of Joseon. The Joseon state had long used the crossroads outside Seosomun Gate as a public execution ground. 

Yi Seung-hun, the first Korean be baptized and founder of the first Roman Catholic Church in the country, was among those martyred at Seosomun during the Shin-yu Catholic Persecution of 1801, the first in a series of crackdowns that put Catholics on death row. 

Today, Seosomun Martyrs’ Shrine, the largest shrine dedicated to the victims of 19th-century persecution, is revered by the country’s Catholic community. Of the 103 people canonized by Pope John Paul II during his visit to Korea in 1984, 44 were martyred at Seosomun. Additionally, 25 out of 124 martyrs approved for beatification by the Vatican in February this year were beheaded at the gate. 

During Pope Francis’ five-day visit, he will visit the Seosomun Martyrs' Shrine on the 3rd day of his trip. On August 16, 2014, the pope will hold a Mass for peace at the shrine. Seosomun Martyrs' Shrine plays a significant role in Catholic culture and its followers in Korea as many beatification ceremonies were held here and was also where father Lee Seung-hun was baptized. The shrine also has a park area where many sculptures of martyrs can be seen.

A memorial tower dedicated to martyrs of Seosomun can be found in the public park, which stands on the former execution ground. The gate itself was torn down under the Japanese colonial occupation. The Seosomun Martyrs’ Shrine is a stop along a customary pilgrimage route for Catholics, along with the Jungnimdong Yakhyeon Cathedral, which oversees the shrine.