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Sunday, 21 September 2014

Hallelujah Korea, Part XVI: Hapdeok Cathedral, Dangjin, Southern Chungcheong


The vast plains of Dangjin in Southern Chungcheong Province have no mountains, but there is a small hill on the plain over which strong winds blow all the time. On the top of the hill stands the Hapdeok Cathedral, a landmark of the area, which looks over the small village of Hapdeok-ri, in which 95 percent of the 85 households are Catholic. Almost every household in Hapdeok-eup, the surrounding administrative town, has Catholic martyrs among its ancestors.

Catholics nearly disappeared from the area due to a century-long persecution throughout the 19th century. However, the Korea-French Treaty of 1886 granted religious freedom across Joseon and Catholics returned to the area, which was then called Naepo. Afterward, Catholicism started to revive. As the congregations expanded rapidly, Eugéne Jean George Coste, a temporary bishop of Joseon, sent Father Jean Curlier to a Catholic church in Yangchon in 1890 to oversee 12 regions, including Seosan, Yesan, Dangjin and Buyeo, all in Southern Chungcheong.

Most of the priests sent to Naepo at that time belonged to the Paris Foreign Missions Society (Missions étrangères de Paris). The Vatican ordered the Paris Foreign Missions Society to propagate Catholicism in Joseon-era Korea and the society sent out priests to do the missionary work. Their most important duty was to select and educate indigenous priests from the region to which they were sent, in this case Joseon. The French priests sent the future St. Andrew Kim Dae-geon, Korea's first native priest, as well as Thomas Choi Yang-eop and Francis Choi Bang-je to Macau to study Catholicism.

The Hapdeok Cathedral (Hanja: 合德聖堂) in 16 Hapdeok Cathedral 2nd Street/HapdeokSeongdang 2-gil, Hapdeok-ri 274-beonji, Hapdeok-eup, Dangjin, Southern Chungcheong Province; which was newly built in 1929, boasts over 100 years in history. Built in Gothic architectural style characterized by two belfries, it is considered the most iconic building demonstrating a western architectural style. Seated on a low hill, displaying the characteristic topographical features of the region, it offers a panoramic view of the area. The church, known for its elegant and classical beauty, blends beautifully with the dense old forest and is surrounded by splendid scenery. This is the reason it is a popular filming location for films and TV series.

The Catholic church in Yangchon was designed in a hanok style, emulating traditional Korean houses. The origins of the Hapdeok Catholic Church lie in Yangchon. In 1890, the parish was established and the church and rectory building with 12 rooms was built. They were relocated to the present-day location in 1899 and it was renamed as Hapdong Parish. Father Perrin (Korean name Baek Mun-pil, 1885), who was appointed as the parochial pastor, completed the first-stage construction in 1929 and performed the extension work by bringing in Chinese technicians, which resulted in the present-day church. Because of the two bell towers which are built with bricks and wood, it is regarded to display an architectural style that is rarely seen in Korea. The bricks comprising the building were made out of the earth from the region.The Hapdeok Cathedral was considered a huge cathedral at the time. Standing high on a hill, overlooking a vast plain, the church has spectacular surrounding views in all directions.

It can be said that the catholic churches in Korea are a form of a religious achievement that was made after more than a hundred years of persecution, since it was the result of the faith of devout Catholics who persevered through persecution and turbulent history. In that sense, instead of viewing the Gongse-ri Cathedral, Asan from the artistic or aesthetic perspective, we recommend that you reflect on its history. One should not forget that this exquisite church was built based on the spirit of the martyrs.