Seosomun Shrine History Museum is a history museum where visitors can go see the history of Catholicism in the late Joseon Dynasty.
Passing the inscription of Lee Seung-hoon’s “Wolrakjaecheonsusangjijin” (Moon Falls on the Water) at the entrance, visitors are led to an open plaza. The displays of artworks leads into the library and seminar rooms on the first floor. The special exhibition hall and small assembly hall is located on the B2 level while the Consolation Hall, permanent exhibition, and Sky Square is located on the third basement floor.
The most popular spot inside this attraction is Sky Square. Constructed so that the ceiling connects to the ground level and opens itself up to the sky, this space clearly symbolizes the theme of Seosomun Martyrs’ Shrine and the open pathway between the earth and sky.
Located in Seosomun History Park, the site of Seosomun Shrine History Museum served as the official place for execution in the Joseon dynasty. Today, it has become a must-visit place for architects, photographers and tourists.
Although it has a painful history of executing many Catholics, Seosomun Shrine History Museum is recognized as an artistic space with red bricks against the blue sky.
In addition, many people visit Seosomun Shrine History Museum because of its beautiful architecture and sculptures hidden all over the place.
As you slowly walk inside the building, you will find uniquely shaped sculptures in unexpected places.
Encountering these sculptures, visitors’ footsteps automatically come to a halt and their eyes fixed on them.
Come visit Seosomun Shrine History Museum to see unique and beautiful sculptures, and become overwhelmed by its beauty.
Address: 5, Chilpae-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul
Seosomun, a holy place par excellence
Souimun (Hangul 소의문, Hanja 昭義門; also known as Southwest Gate) was one of the Eight Gates of Seoul in the Fortress Wall of Seoul, South Korea, which surrounded the city in the Joseon Dynasty. The gate was also known as Seosomun (서소문, “West Small Gate”). The gate no longer exists, and there is a marker placed roughly where the gate once stood.
The Seouimun Gate (소의문, 昭義門), at the end of the 19th century.
Souimun, which means “Promotion of Justice Gate,” was originally built in 1396. It was torn down by the Japanese authorities in 1914 during the early years of colonial rule of the country.
A marker has been erected near to where Souimun once stood. It is located next to a multi-storey car park structure, which is adjacent to the JoongAng Ilbo newspaper building on Seosomun-ro (street), in Jung-gu (district), in Seoul.
The current commemorative plaque in place of the Seouimun gate (58-10, Seosomun-dong).
As early as the middle of the Joseon Dynasty, Souimun Gate was known to be a place of death, as it was there that state prisoners were executed. By the way, it was also called “ Sigumun ”, which literally means “the door where the corpses were transported”. A way to remind people that they had an interest in staying away from criminal acts and actions against the royal regime.
In the 19th century, royalty attacked Catholics. Their religion was booming in the country, but it threatened the foundations of the dynasty: more than 8,000 people were killed throughout the country. In 1984, the Church canonized 103, including 44 who had been tortured at Seosomun. This is the reason why Seosomun has always been considered an important holy place for the Catholic community.
In 1973, the Seoul government created an urban park here, the current Seosomun Historical Park . He erected a commemorative sculpture 33 meters high there. But the park was difficult to access, wedged between an elevated expressway and the Gyeongui Line railway. We even ended up building a public car park and a processing plant for recyclable waste.
From the historical park to the Seosomun Shrine History Museum
When Pope Francis came to Korea in 2014 to beatify 124 other martyrs , the decision was made to radically transform the place, creating a museum of history and a place of meditation worthy of the name, while making the park to the citizens.
I really like the visual identity of the museum: the consonants of the word “Seosomun” (ㅅㅅ ㅁ in Korean) form a single line: the first “s” (ㅅ) represents people walking in the park. The second, the pilgrims who walk on Earth. The final “m” (ㅁ) is like the holy place that preserves the spirit of the martyrs. Here, hangeul , the Korean alphabet, is used to mark the harmonious links that unite Heaven, Men and Earth.
The gallery presented the exhibition “Otchil and Korean Mother-of-pearl”. Lacquer and mother-of-pearl inlay techniques date back to the time of the Goryeo Kingdom (918–1392). The works presented – pieces of great beauty – were those of nine contemporary artists who still master these ancestral techniques.
And while we stroll between the works, we also take the time to linger in the hidden corners or to admire the very photogenic views outside.
The Hall of Consolation
The visit continues with the Hall of Consolation. This rectangular space is totally bare, which increases the impression of silence. It is a place conducive to a return to calm and meditation. Its four walls are covered with metal mesh panels, which can be used as projection screens during special events.
Saint Chong Ha-Sang Chapel
Paul Chong Hasang is a Korean Catholic priest , born in 1794 or 1795 , died on 22 september 1839. He is one of the martyrs of Korea . His feast day is September 22 , the anniversary of his death, or September 20 , the day of celebration with the martyrs of Korea.
Paul Chong Hasang was born in 1794 or 1795. He was the son of Catholic martyr Augustin Jeong Yak-jong and the nephew of philosopher and scientist Jean Jeong Yak-yong , author of the first catechism entirely in Korean; they are among the earliest converts in Korea .
When the father and older brother are martyred, the mother and the rest of the children are separated. Paul Chong Hasang was seven years old when he was fatherless and separated from his mother.
When he grew up, he chose to become an interpreter and a government official. This allows him to go often to Beijing , where he meets the bishop, whom he asks to send priests to Korea. He also wrote in 1825 to the pope, through the bishop, to request the creation of a diocese in Korea 1 .
A few years later, Bishop Laurent Imbert arrived with two priests. The bishop finds Paul Chong talented, zealous and virtuous. He teaches him Latin and theology and is about to ordain him when a persecution breaks out .
Paul Chong Hasang is arrested. He then gave the judge a written statement defending Catholicism. The judge, after having read it, agrees with him on what he wrote, but adds: “the king forbids this religion, it is your duty to renounce it” . Paul Chong replies that he is a Christian and will remain so until his death.
He then undergoes a series of tortures but remains serene in appearance. Finally, he was beheaded in Seoul at the age of 45 on22 september 1839 .
Just opposite the Hall of Consolation, one can distinguish through a series of glass doors an open space. It is the Celestial Place, which represents the link between Earth and Heaven.
We are here a few meters below the ground, surrounded by red bricks which contrast with the sky. The museum is full of works of art, and this square is not to be outdone with the strange wooden sculptures representing 44 martyrs.
The hall dedicated to the permanent exhibition
Or rather, the halls, insofar as this space of immaculate whiteness has two. We are here in the permanent part of the museum, dedicated to this dramatic story around the Christian religion in Korea.
The collections are presented in what looks suspiciously like a vault, adorned with arches and columns of white marble. The modernity of the premises contrasts with the historical aspect of the museum. We go from one theme to another through different modules, which form a natural path.
The explanations are in Korean and English, which is very appreciable. We also learn a lot about the neighborhood around Seosomun. The place was very popular, due to the presence of a medicinal herb market, and the development of crafts. The inhabitants came from all walks of life: merchants, teachers, acupuncturists or even geomancers, it was a real place of social diversity.
It is possible to visit the district by following a route marked with stones numbered from 1 to 11, which take us to places where historical figures lived. Another way to trace the history of Seoul (You can click on the image below to enlarge it if necessary).
Well, I hope you enjoyed this visit and will make you want to discover this museum and its incredible architecture. Find below some elements to help you organize your visit.
Directions to the museum
In Korean : 서소문성지 역사박물관 (seosomunseongji yeoksabangmulgwan)
Address : 5, Chilpae-ro, Jung-gu, Seoul
Transportation : Line 2, Chungjeongno Station, Exit 4. Or a 20-minute walk from City Hall station (line 2).
Opening hours : 9:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. (Tuesday, Thursday to Sunday), 9:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. (Wednesday). Closed on Mondays.
Prices : Free.
Website : www.seosomun.org (in Korean)