The interior of Seosomun Seongji History Museum. (Photo: Wikimedia.com)
Seoul Archdiocese has signed an agreement with the civic administration to convert the historic Seosomun Shrine History Museum into a public facility.
The agreement signed with Seoul's Jung-gu Ward Office aims to improve the museum's operations, which draw hundreds of visitors daily.
The meaning of "the museum grows when it becomes a living museum," Cardinal Andrew Yeom Soo-jeong of Seoul said after signing the agreement on Sept. 9.
The museum, opened in June, showcases the history of Catholicism in Korea during the Joseon dynasty.
The government aided the construction of the museum but entrusted its management with the archdiocese.
An estimated 10,000 Catholics were martyred during the crackdown due to ideological conflict with the reigning Joseon state.Yi Seung-hun, the first Korean baptized Catholic, was among those martyred at Seosomun in 1801.
The site is dedicated to Korea's first Catholic martyrs who were canonized by Pope John Paul II in 1984.
Of the 103 people canonized by Pope John Paul II, 44 were martyred at Seosomun.
Besides, 25 out of 124 martyrs approved for beatification were beheaded at the gate. A memorial tower is dedicated to the martyrs in the historic museum.
Auxiliary Bishop Chung Soon-taek of Seoul, Father James Won Jong-hyeon, in charge of the museum, and Andrew Seo Yang-ho, head of Jung-gu Ward Office, attended the signing ceremony.
The museum showcases 136 artifacts such as woodblock prints of Songjadaejeon and Yeoyudangjeonseo and the erstwhile Joseon dynasty writings.
Father James Won, who worked to turn the museum a public facility, said the change would help to exchange relics and other artifacts with neighboring museums.
The museum commemorates a tragic period in the history of the Korean Church. The site served as an official execution ground for the nation's most infamous criminals and is a place where martyrs paid the ultimate sacrifice.
It also has a special place in Korea's modern history as a great number of reformists and pioneering patriots and followers of the Donghak movement sacrificed their lives.
During the Joseon dynasty, Confucianism was the official state ideology. The monarchy perceived its authority threatened by not only the Catholic faith but also by the Donghaks, who advocated an egalitarian ideology.
The monarchy persecuted and martyred Catholics and the Donghaks in the Seosomun area.
The museum is not only a holy place for Catholics but also a sacred site for Donghak followers and other Korean nationalists.