Posted by: rbbadger | February 28, 2009

Our Lady of Lourdes in Seoul

Korean Catholicism is pretty unusual in that it began with the Koreans themselves rather than from foreign missionaries.  Korean noblemen, well versed in classical Chinese, came across the writing of Mateo Ricci, S.J., a Jesuit Catholic priest and missionary who sought to explain Catholicism solely in Eastern terms.  They sought baptism and brought the faith back with them to Korea.  They then asked missionaries in China to come and serve them, many of whom were French.  So at least in the architecture of the buildings, the French left a definite stamp on Korean Catholicism.

Among of the most famous of the shrines in France is that of Lourdes.  The chancery building of the Archdiocese has a very nice Lourdes grotto with statues of Our Lady and St. Bernadette Soubirous.  While the official name of the Cathedral is not Our Lady of Lourdes Cathedral, given that it was constructed under the supervision of French missionaries, one would expect there to be an image of Our Lady of Lourdes somewhere.  The French did great work in the missions.  However, the buildings that they built tended to reflect French sensibilities and tastes, not that this is entirely a bad thing.  In Santa Fe, a city which embraces and celebrates its Hispanic heritage with a vengeance, there is a Cathedral so unspeakably French that one honestly wonders what it is doing there given the surrounding architecture.  The archbishop that built it, Archbishop Jean-Baptiste Lamy was French, so it is no surprise that the cathedral he spent a lifetime building reflects the Romanesque architecture he grew up with.  And so in Seoul, we have a very French building complete with stained glass windows, altars, and other appointments imported directly from Paris.  It also should come as no surprise that some of the religious orders of nuns in Korea, such as the Missionary Sisters of St. Paul of Chartres, have their origins in France.

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