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Saturday, 20 September 2014

Hallelujah Korea, Part XV: Solmoe Holy Grounds, Dangjin, Southern Chungcheong - Birthplace of Saint Andrew Kim Dae-geon

Solmoe Holy Ground is of major significance as one of the sites Pope Francis Jorge Mario Bergoglio is scheduled to visit during his official visit to Korea from August 14 to 18, 2014 for the 2014 Asia Youth Day. The papal trip is all the more momentous as it is his first visit to Asia and he will only be visiting Korea. 

Solmoe Holy Ground is located at 132 Solmoe Avenue/Solmoe-ro, Songsan-ri 108-beonji, Ugang-myeon, Dangjin City, Southern Chungcheong Province, and is considered to be the sacred land of Catholic martyr St. Andrew Kim Dae-geon. Priest Kim Dae-geon was the first native Korean Catholic priest to be executed on the Saenamteo execution grounds (Nowadays Saenamteo Cathedral in Seoul Yongsan-gu) in Seoul following the religious persecution of Catholics in 1846. Read on to learn more about the sacred land of Solmoe, which is where the Catholic religion took root in Korea.

A central location for Catholicism in Korea, Solmoe is the birthplace of St. Andrew Kim Dae-geon (1821-1846). Four generations of the Kim family [Pius Kim Jin-hoo (Great-grandfather), Andrew Kim Jong-han (uncle), and Ignatius Kim Je-joon (father)], all of whom were martyred, were born and lived here. The Kim clan produced as many as eleven martyrs.

Solmoe was sanctified in 1906. In 1946, a monument was erected to commemorate the centennial of the martyrdom of Priest Kim Dae-geon, in addition to the restoration of his childhood home and the construction of a memorial museum. 

The memorial cathedral at Solmoe Holy Ground is in the shape of a water glass floating on water. The design is based on a modern interpretation of the Raphael boat that Priest Kim Dae-geon and emissaries took on their way to Joseon (modern-day Korea). It visualizes the Raphael losing its direction in a rainstorm, with the sail and helm broken, but entering the shores of Joseon safely under the blessing of St. Mary.

Near the entrance to Solmoe Holy Ground is a small stone well at the site of Priest Kim Dae-geon’s birthplace and a pine tree grove to the left. It is quickly evident why this place is called Solmoe, which literally means a little hill with a pine forest in archaic Korean. A walk up the pine tree road leads to a bronze statue of the priest holding a bible in his left hand and delivering the message of the Gospel. Nearby is the Path of the Cross, symbolizing the path of the ordeal that Jesus had to walk carrying a cross to his crucifixion as detailed in the Christian Bible. Visitors can walk along this path to reflect on Priest Kim Dae-geon’s hardships. Solmoe is a historic place where four generations of the Kim clan lived, including his father, uncle and great-grandfather. Catholicism in Korea first sprang up in Naepo-ri, spreading across the provinces of Chungcheong, and then to Jeolla, Gyeonggi, and Gyeongsang. A notably large number of Catholic priests and nuns are from this region.

The Solmoe Holy Ground memorial hall has on display various documents on the life of Priest Kim Dae-geon, detailing the persecution of members of the Korean Catholic Church, and letters and reports on martyrs written by the priest. With illustrations, the reports offer a detailed documentation of the persecutions at the time, serving as a valuable historic material on how Catholic priests and believers were oppressed. The memorial hall offers video on the life of Priest Kim in Korean, Chinese, and English. In between Priest Kim’s birth home and memorial hall is the Solmoe Arena, which is surrounded by statues of the 12 Apostles. The Solmoe Arena signifies sand or sandy beach, but in modern interpretation, it means a round stadium or performance area. The area highlights the martyrdom of St. Kim Dae-geon and his emissaries at a sandy beach.

The Path of the Cross features a mosaic path showing the hands of Jesus and a bronze path on a large scale. This is where many Catholic pilgrims pray or meditate while walking among pine trees. The Korean-style statue of St. Mary is said to be of spiritual significance, and that many people who had difficulty conceiving were finally able to after praying there.