OWL Magazine Korea

Seoul Yongsan Martyrs’ Shrine – ‘Saenamteo Memorial Cathedral’

In Seoul’s Yongsan district, you can discover the martyrs’ shrine managed by the Catholic Archdiocese of Seoul. The current martyrs’ shrine houses a Catholic memorial cathedral built in the traditional Korean hanok style. Construction began in 1984, commemorating the 200th anniversary of Catholicism in Korea, and was completed after a three-year effort.

“Site where Chosun-era Catholics were martyred by the Han River – Saenamteo”

Saenamteo refers to the location along the Han River where Chosun-era Catholics were martyred. Father Kim Dae-geon Andrea was also executed at this site. Historically, it served as a military training ground during the early Chosun period and later as an execution site for serious criminals, including political offenders. From the first missionary martyr in Korea, Chinese priest Ju Mun-mo Jacob, in the persecution of 1801 to the Pyo-in Persecution of 1866, a total of 11 pastors, including French priests and Father Kim Dae-geon, shed their holy blood here.

“Saenamteo Memorial Cathedral”

Saenamteo derives its name from ‘saenamuter,’ meaning sand and trees by the river. Although the exact location of Saenamteo is challenging to confirm, a land near Saenamteo around 1950 was designated as the site of martyrdom. In 1984, construction began on the memorial cathedral, and by 1987, the Martyrs’ Shrine Saenamteo Memorial Cathedral was erected.

Designed by Park Tae-yeon, a professor in the Department of Architecture at Myongji University, the cathedral is a concrete frame building with one underground floor and three above-ground floors. The exterior is adorned with traditional Korean roof tiles, full bricks, and decorative concrete with a light blue pigment. While the exterior replicates a mid-layered hanok (traditional Korean house), the interior features a simple rectangular space with exposed structural elements. Despite aiming for indigenous representation through direct revival of traditional wooden construction forms, criticisms have been raised for not capturing the symbolic essence or atmosphere of the interior space. Placing the cathedral in the central part of the 1,100-pyeong site has also been criticized for underutilizing the historical significance of Saenamteo.

“Seoul Yongsan, Martyrs’ Shrine – Saenamteo Memorial Cathedral”