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Saturday, 7 February 2015

Hallelujah Korea, Part XVIII: Okcheon Cathedral, Okcheon, Northern Chungcheong

The Okcheon Cathedral (Hanja: 沃川聖堂) in 91 Jungangno, Samyang-ri 158-2 beonji, Okcheon-eup, Okcheon County, Northern Chungcheong Province was established in 1906 and one of Okcheon Conuty's modern constructions with 100 years of history. The value of its main building as a source to understand histories of Korean religious constructions after the Korean War was acknowledged and registered as a Korean Republic Cultural Asset No.7  by the Cultural Heritage Administration of Korea (CHA/문화재청/文化財廳/Munhwajae-cheong) on March 28th 2002.

The missionary who first propagated Catholics in Okcheon region was Father Buillon Camille of Janghowon-Gamgok head branch. The first Kong-So of Okcheon-eup was founded by Father Pasquier Pierre Joseph, the 2nd master of Gongju Church, in 1904.

Okcheon Cathedral was separated and established from the Gongju Cathedral. It was founded on May 20th of 1906 by Native Korean Reverend, Father Luke Hong Byung-chul, who was inaugurated as the first master of Okcheon Cathedral. While the church was becoming settled after the inauguration of the first master Reverend, the dispute between the 2nd Reverend, Father Joseph Lee Jong-sun and the chairman of the flock made it move to Biryong Kong-So in 1914. Later, people tried to move it back to the Okcheon Cathedral but could not get permission from Father Mutel. Therefore, the parish church was again moved to Daejeon in 1919.

The Okcheon Cathedral, degraded from a parish church to Kong-So, regained its status as a parish church in 1928 with the inauguration of Father Yun Ye-won, but again degraded to Kong-So of Daejeon parish church in 1943. In July of 1948, when Father Peter Kim Yeong-geun came as the 7th master Reverend of Okcheon Church, it regained its status as a parish church. In order to revive the parish church, they constructed a cathedral at Samyang-ri. 

After Northern Chungcheong became mission region of Maryknoll Missioners, 8 American missionaries have come to Okcheon parish churches by 1977. Father Byun Seong-haeng (Petipren Roy, 변성행/邊聖行), the 8th from Maryknoll Missioners, rebuilt the current church building and 010 Priest House. With the renovation, the construction of Okcheon Cathedral has shifted from early Korean style to western style. It was believed that the Okcheon Cathedral was built in 1956, but the Sangryangmun record in the roof and the record of Maryknoll Missioners revealed its construction in 1955.

By the records found so far, the designer of the church is believed to be Baek Susa (Ralph DeBlanc). Even though there is not written record that he actually designed the Okcheon Cathedral the period he worked in Cheongju parish as a construction director along with a Korean, Park Tae-bong coincides with the construction period of Okcheon Cathedral. Besides, from his backgrounds, a bachelor degree in general engineering and a degree in civil engineering prove his designing ability well.

In consideration of such factors, Baek Susa (Brother Ralph DeBlanc) is assumed to be the designer of the Okcheon Cathedral. The construction style of the Cathedral has been significantly changed from Korean style to western style, going through Imundong Church (?, Korean style) → Jukhyang-ri Church (1909, Korean style) → Samyang-ri Church (1948, Korean style) → current church (1955, western style).

The current church went through changes for two times. The first one was the cross at the top of the bell tower and the pointed tower at the lower part, during the office days of Father Ha, the 12th. In the early period, there were 4 ventilation windows in zinc finishing, and the crosses were one at the center and each at the 4 corners of the tower body. However, at the Father Pardy's visit during the Father Ha's office days, the zinc finishing got rapidly changed to roofing the finishing, and the 4 crosses at the tower body got all removed. It is believed that zinc was replaced then due to rusts and corrosions. The second was an expansion construction in 1991. The size of the church was expanded from the former straight-line type building to Latin cross-type buildings.

The restoration shall be prepared by the formula "Original shape = Designer's will" rather than by "Original shape = Initial shape". Therefore, the restoration state of the Okcheon Cathedral shall be determined by a period where the original designer's will was optimally applied. For the church's original shape, the construction period and the will of the architect were first considered, and for the standards of repairs, closeness to the original shape was considered. Buildings, especially cultural heritages, essentially need repalrs due to their aging. Whenever they repair, the determination of periodical standards require such considerations for the original shapes.