History of Catholicism in Korea comes to the Vatican

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History of Catholicism in Korea comes to the Vatican


Some of the artifacts that are going to be displayed as part of “On Earth as it is in Heaven: Inside the Catholic Church of Seoul, Korea” which opens at the Vatican Museum on Sept. 9 include a painting of the Virgin Mary in hanbok, traditional Korean dress, far right, a book written by Joseon era Catholic scholar Jeong Yak-yong, far left, a cross, plates and other important calligraphy works. [ARCHDIOCESE OF SEOUL]

For the first time, artifacts that show how Catholic churches grew on Korean soil over the past 230 years will be display at an exhibition being held in Vatican City.

Titled “On Earth as it is in Heaven: Inside the Catholic Church of Seoul, Korea,” the exhibit starting Sept. 9 at Braccio di Carlo Magno hall of the Vatican Museums will contain 188 artifacts including books, crosses and even newspaper articles that explain details about how Catholics struggled to maintain their religion. It is also the first time that any exhibition on Korea will be held at the Vatican, according to the Archdiocese of Seoul. The exhibit will continue until Nov. 17.

In this special exhibition, many items from the 19th and 20th centuries will show the struggles early Catholics faced when the religion began to spread during the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) without the presence of ordained priests. A record of testimonies from eight people who witnessed the capture of 16 martyrs will be part of the exhibition, as well as a book titled Mokminsimseo by Joseon era scholar Jeong Yak-yonga. The book includes a poem in which Jeong criticized the political chaos at the time.

To show how the Western religion became intertwined with local Korean culture back then, the exhibition will display artwork where Mary, the mother of Jesus, is wearing a white hanbok, a traditional Korean garment, with her hair done up.

“This special Vatican exhibition is an opportune moment to show the development of Catholic culture in Korea to others,” said the Archdiocese of Seoul. “Also, since the religious artifacts reflect the Korean history, it will also be an extraordinary chance to show Korea.”

The special exhibition will begin with the opening mass by Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jung. The opening date is also special, as on the same day in 1831, Korea was approved to set up its diocese system for the first time. About 600 people are expected to take part in the mass.

To make the opening of the exhibition even more special, the Archdiocese of Seoul decided to bring young Catholics from 15 different countries in Asia to Korea first before the exhibition starts, and then to the Vatican so that more people from around the world can be part of the event. These young ones will visit many Catholic-related sights and buildings to learn more about how the religion grew in the Korean peninsula.


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