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Pilgrimage Street resonates early days of Christianity in Korea

Various historic Christian religious sites in Incheon dating back to the 19th century are among the main attractions
Incheon Naedong Church of the Anglican Church of Korea was built in 1890 by Anglican missionary Bishop Charles John Corfe

Incheon Naedong Church of the Anglican Church of Korea was built in 1890 by Anglican missionary Bishop Charles John Corfe. (Photo: Catholic Times)

Published: January 16, 2024 11:02 AM GMT
Updated: January 16, 2024 11:42 AM GMT

The Sea Link Road in Gaehangjang of Incheon has earned fame as a "Historical and Cultural Pilgrimage Road" thanks to a series of century-old heritage sites related to the early days of Christianity in Korea.

All year round, pilgrims and tourists from home and abroad flock to the street to visit the monuments, including the site where the first Catholic missionary nuns arrived in 1885, Korea’s first Anglican cathedral and the Methodist Church, and Incheon’s first Catholic cathedral known as Dapdong Cathedral.

During the Christian Unity Octave from Jan. 18-25, when Christians across the globe pray for the unity of all Christians, many people throng to the street to visit the churches and other historical Christian sites.

A monument dedicated to four missionary nuns (two French and two Chinese) from the Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres congregation stands in front of Incheon Central Police Station.

The nuns arrived in Incheon on July 22, 1888, five years after the opening of Jemulpo Port. Their arrival marked a new beginning for Catholic religious life when Korea was under the rule of the long-reigning Joseon dynasty (1392-1910).

The site is home to a bronze sculpture by famed Korean sculptor Joseph Choi Jong-tae depicting the missionary nuns disembarking from a ship. A prayer: “For the greater glory of God” is also engraved on it, recalling a note from the travel diary of one of the pioneering nuns, Sister Zacharias.

Some 200 meters from the nuns’ monument stands the Korean Christianity 100th Anniversary Memorial Tower, which commemorates the missionary spirit of the Protestant missionaries who first set foot in Incheon in 1885.

Crossing the main road from the monument is Gaehangjang Nuri-gil (Street Open to the World). At the entrance is the Jemuljindu Martyrs' Shrine of the Diocese of Incheon and Haean Cathedral, built in 1966 for the Chinese in Chinatown. 

This area was the site of a concession between Japan and China at the time the port was opened. On the one hand, it has a painful history as a battleground between great powers, and on the other, it is a modern history museum without a roof. Chinatown is right next door.

Passing the Daebul Hotel Exhibition Hall, which contains the history of Korea's first Western-style hotel, is the Incheon Modern Museum and Sinpo International Market Street.

Climbing the steep slope halfway up Eungbongsan Mountain, a cathedral reminiscent of a medieval European building comes into view. This is the Incheon Naedong Church of the Anglican Church of Korea. In 1890, Bishop Charles John Corfe, an Anglican missionary, built Korea's first Anglican cathedral. 

Incheon's first modern hospital, St. Luke's, founded by Dr. Eli Barr Landis, a medical missionary from the United States, was also built shortly afterward. 

The current hospital was rebuilt in 1956, immediately after the end of the Korean War, with donations from British veterans and bereaved families. The first hospital was destroyed during the war.

In the flowerbed of the hospital yard stands a monument dedicated to Dr. Landis and Bishop Corfe with their busts.

Down the hills of Incheon, one can come across Incheon Naeri Church, the first Methodist church in Korea. The church was established by Henry G. Appenzeller from the American Methodist Mission who landed at Jemulpo port in 1885.

The church was rebuilt in 1985, on the 100th anniversary of its founding.

At the entrance to the church are busts of Appenzeller, the second pastor, George H. Jones, and Reverend Kim Ki-beom, the first pastor not only in the Korean Methodist Church but also in the Korean Protestant Church. A restored building of the Jemulpo Wesleyan Chapel, Incheon's first Western-style Protestant chapel, is also located next to the church.

About 5 minutes walk from the Naeri Methodist Church stands a beautiful cathedral up on the hill. 

Dapdong Cathedral is the first Catholic cathedral in Incheon. In 1889, Father J. Wilhelm of the Paris Foreign Mission Society (MEP) was the parish priest of the church and laid the foundation of the cathedral.

Later, a Gothic-style building was built in 1897, designed by Father E. Coste. The current cathedral was transformed into a Romanesque style with many arches when reconstruction work was completed in 1937 to build up the exterior of the existing building with bricks. 

The three bell towers on the front further enhance the building’s sense of vertical elevation. It is one of the oldest Western-style modern buildings among domestic cathedrals and is a National Cultural Heritage Site.

Next to the cathedral, there is also the Incheon Diocese History Museum, which was opened in 2021 in a renovated old bishop's house. The history museum also exhibits the sacraments where Japanese and Chinese living in the concession area were baptized at Dapdong Cathedral.

Standing in the cathedral yard, one can see the entire area of ​​Eungbongsan Mountain in western Incheon at a glance which holds memories of the missionaries who arrived in the unfamiliar land to preach Good News to the Koreans.

This report is brought to you in partnership with the Catholic Times of Korea

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