The Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception also known as Myeongdong Cathedral, is a prominent Latin-rite Roman Catholic church located in the Myeongdong neighborhood of Jung-gu, Seoul, South Korea. It is the seat of the Archbishop of Seoul, Andrew Yeom Soo-jung, the highest Catholic prelate in the country. Dedicated in honor of Our Lady of the Immaculate Conception, the principal patroness of Korea and the Korean people, the cathedral is a community landmark and a notable symbol of Catholicism in Korea. The cathedral church is one of the earliest and most notable examples of Gothic Revival architecture in Korea.
The original church was constructed with twenty types of locally fired red and gray bricks. The main building rises to 23m high, while the steeple, which contains a clock, rises to 45m. It was designated National Historic Site #258 on November 22, 1977. The interior of the church is ornately decorated with religious artwork. Stained glass windows depict the Nativity of Jesus and Adoration of the Magi, Jesus with the Twelve Apostles, and the Fifteen Mysteries of the Rosary. The windows were restored to their original condition in 1982 by artist Lee Nam-gyu.
The crypt of the cathedral lies directly beneath the main altar. The crypt contains the relics of nine Korean Church martyrs. Two of the martyrs' identities are unknown. The remaining five are Bishop Laurent-Joseph-Marius Imbert (the second Bishop of the Church in Korea), Father Maubant, Father Chastan Kim Sung-woo Antonio, and Choi Gunghwan Francesco. A special pilgrimage Holy Mass takes place every weekday morning in the Crypt Chapel.
On the 50th anniversary of the consecration of the church in 1948, a French statue of Our Lady of Lourdes bearing the title “the Immaculate Conception” was erected behind the church property. On August 27, 1960, Archbishop Paul Roh Ki-nam consecrated the grotto and dedicated it towards Korean national peace.
Patronage of the church
Amidst Korean suspicion and persecution of Christianity at the time, Pope Gregory XVI established the first Apostolic Vicariate in Seoul, Korea in 1831. The community initially survived without the help of foreign Catholic priests, who were unable to come due to anti-Catholic persecutions earlier that year. According to Cardinal Nicolas Cheong Jin-suk, in 1841, Pope Gregory XVI solemnly dedicated the Catholic Church in Korea to the Blessed Virgin Mary under the title Immaculate Virgin. Pope Gregory XVI officially declared the Immaculate Conception as the Patroness of Korea and the Korean people in 1864 The church became a planned structural building from this patronage invoked by the pontiff thirty years later in 1894.
On May 6, 1984, Pope John Paul II reaffirmed the Blessed Virgin as the patroness of the Cathedral and the Republic of Korea. In his 1984 Apostolic Letter, Pope John Paul II noted that Bishop Imbert (Embert) Bum first consecrated Korea to the Immaculate Conception in 1837, followed by Bishop Jean Joseph Ferréol in 1846 along with Saint Joseph as its co-patron. According to the papal brief, a similar re-dedication of patronage to the Immaculate Conception was invoked on by the French Bishop Gustave Charles Mutel (1854–1933) on May 29, 1898.
The church was originally called the Jonghyeon Cathedral (종현성당, 鐘峴聖堂), and later as simply The Catholic Church (천주교회 天主敎會) during the Japanese occupation. After the liberation years of Korea from colonial rule, the name was later changed to the Cathedral Church of the Virgin Mary of the Immaculate Conception and was colloquially referred to by its congregants as the Myeongdong Cathedral.