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For well over a year now, I’ve been meaning to see Seodo Central Methodist Church, a historic hanok church on Jumun-do, a small island off the coast of Ganghwa-do.
The problem, however, had been getting there — only two boats a day go to the island (9:30am and 5pm), and if you take the latter one, you have to sleep on the island. As it is, it takes about 90 minutes to get from Seoul to Ganghwa, and then its another 30 minutes from Ganghwa Town to the port of Oepo-ri, where the ferry to Jumun-do departs.
On Saturday, though, yours truly finally made the trip. And boy, am I thankful I did.
What we’ll see here are two of Ganghwa’s three hanok churches, the afore mentioned Seodo Central Methodist Church and an old favorite of mine, Ganghwa Anglican Church.
The Boat to Jumun-do
Jumun-do is a small island some 39km to the west of the much larger and better known island of Ganghwa-do. Like many of Korea’s lesser islands, it has a small population of hearty island folk, most of whom are engaged in fishing. It does have a small school, however, where — I was told — there’s even a Kiwi teaching English.
Ferries to Jumun-do depart from the port of Oepo-ri, located on Ganghwa-do’s western shore. Incidentally, this is also where ferries to Seongmo-do — home to the major Buddhist temple of Bomunsa — also depart. There are buses that run straight to Oepo-ri from Seoul’s Sinchon terminal (from which all buses to Ganghwa-do depart), but if you miss one of those, you can just get off at Ganghwa Bus Terminal and take one of the frequent local buses to Oepo-ri… which is what I did.
Got there a bit early. Fortunately, there are a couple of restaurants serving breakfast in Oepo-ri, including ones specializing in haejangguk and, in this case, baekban.
Sunrise over Oepo-ri. Makes the early morning bus ride all worth it.
Hey, the mail has to get to and from Jumun-do somehow!
The ferry ride to Jumun-do takes about 90 minutes, stopping off at another nearby island before reaching its final destination. It’s quite a comfortable ride — the passenger cabin has heated floors on which you can recover some lost sleep. I’m sure the outside is nice, too, when the weather’s not freezing.
Seodo Central Methodist Church
Jumun-do is nice enough, to be sure, but my primary motivation for making this trip was to see Seodo Central Methodist Church, a historic and architecturally significant hanok church located on the island.
The church is about a 20—30 minute walk from where the ferry drops you off. As you arrive at 11am and the boat back to Ganghwa-do departs at 1pm, this can be trouble. Fortunately, you can sometimes hitch a ride and the church often has a van at the ferry landing to pick up visitors.
Seodo Central Methodist Church was built in 1923. Unlike Ganghwa-do’s two Anglican churches, which were product of Western missionary efforts, Seodo Central Methodist Church was the product of indigenous missionary efforts. According to the very helpful pastor, who was kind enough to show me around and talk to me about the church’s architecture and history, the church design took its inspiration from Onsu-ri Anglican Church on Ganghwa-do — certainly, the similarities are there.
What sets Seodo Central Methodist Church apart, though, is the second-story addition at the entrance of the church. On first glance, I thought it was the influence of Japanese architecture, but it’s not. It actually an attempt by the church’s builders to replicate — in the architectural language of the hanok — the steeple found on most Western churches. The church bell originally hung in the second-story tower before, for conservation reasons, it was moved to the separately built bell tower seen next to the church.
Lovely eaves, aren’t they?
Oddly enough, though, there is one Japanese influence on the building, namely, the shingling on the outer walls. It does provide a rather interesting medley, though, of Korean, Japanese and Western elements.
The inside of the hall, like the exterior, reinterprets Western church design in the language of the hanok. You have a high central nave, flanked by two aisles. The altar is at the front. The old hanok church is used for daily early morning services, attended by about 30 to 30 believers. Larger services of 120 or so are held in the newer brick church next to it. Interestingly, the church still preserves a number of old Korean Christian customs, with men and women entering through separate entrances and praying in separate aisles (men in the aisle on the left, and women — who make up the bulk of morning congregation — in the nave and right aisle).
According to the pastor — who came to the island from Incheon 12 years ago and is now something of a celebrity among the islanders — there’s some tragic history attached to the church. During the Korean War, a US B-29 returning from a raid on North Korea was shot down nearby, and the crew parachuted onto the island. Church members protected the airmen and, in the middle of the night, smuggled them in a small boat to a British warship waiting off shore. Needless to say, the North Koreans were not amused, and arrested several church members and dragged them off to North Korea, where they were never seen again. I was told Donald Gregg visited the church to commemorate the sacrifice when he was US ambassador to Korea.
Ganghwa Anglican Church
I could spend all day extolling its virtues, but I’ll let the Right Reverend Mark Napier Trollope, who actually designed the church before becoming Korea’s third Anglican bishop, do the talking:
But the great event of the year was the dedication, by Bishop Corfe, of the big Church of SS. Peter and Paul in Kanghwa City on November 15, 1900. The congregation there had long outgrown the accommodation of the temporary church room, which had been several times enlarged. And a handsome gift of £500 from the Marriott Bequest Fund in the hands of S.P.G. had made it possible to erect this striking building, which, albeit the most prominent structure in the old city, harmonizes well with its surroundings, a fairly successful endeavour having been made to adopt the old Corean style of architecture to the purposes of a Christian Church.
Buiilt by a royal woodcutter/architect who had participated in King (later, Emperor) Gojong’s reconstruction of Gyeongbokgung Palace, Gwanghwa Anglican Church harmonizes Korean palace construction, Buddhist spacial orientation and Roman basilica architecture.
Above, you can see some of the Buddhist elements as you pass through a gate and belfry (with Buddhist-style church bell) before reaching a courtyard in front of the main hall. It’s not unlike a Buddhist temple, except for the beautiful Canterbury cross on the gate and the Latin cross on the bell.
You can really appreciate the merging of Korean and Western architectural elements here — Western doors and windows, Korean roof eaves and colorings. In fact, I can think of no other building in Korea that blends East and West so well. You can find an old photograph of the church here — as you can see, it hasn’t changed much.
In the roof and eaves (particularly in the gargoyles, end tiles and roof hips, although not so much in the cross), you can see the obvious similarities with Gyeongbokgung Palace, which shouldn’t be a surprise, considering who built it.
Taegeuk and Canterbury crosses — that’s a motif combination you don’t see everyday.
There are three stone monuments next to the church. I believe two are for Korea’s two first Anglican bishops, while the other is for an Anglican nun who served as a nurse in nearby Onsu-ri but died of fever in 1906.
To the rear of the complex is the hanok-style rectory. With the exception of the cross on the facade and the big Canterbury cross on the gate, it seems to differ little from your run-of-the-mill hanok home.
The church is usually locked up except for when masses are being held. Fortunately, someone was at the parish office who could open it up for me.
The interior of the church is a stunning example of what happens when Anglo-Catholicism meets Korean traditional architecture. Sure, you have the paper windows and doors and Korean hanok-style rafters, but ultimately, it’s a Roman basilica, complete with high nave, two aisles, a clerestory, chancel and even — in true Anglican fashion — a rood screen.
A note about the Anglo-Catholicsm. Korea’s first Anglican missionaries were men influenced by the Oxford Movement, and while I’m no scholar of Korean Anglicanism, I’m led to believe Korean Anglicanism tends very much towards the “high church” side. The Anglo-Catholic persuasion of Korea’s first Anglican missionaries is nowhere more apparent than in Mark Napier Trollope (whom you can visit to this day here):
In the speech he made on the day of his episcopal consecration, he spoke of his hope that ‘Corean Christians who are in communion with Canterbury may be thoroughly Catholic in faith and love, and neither Papists, Anglicans nor Protestants.’ As can be seen from that deprecating reference to ‘Anglicans’, he did not understand himself to be an Anglican bishop, but a bishop of the Catholic Church. He was determined not to make the mistake he believed had ‘resulted first in scandal and secondly in failure’ in South Africa [see Rodney Schofield’s article launching this series, New Directions, February 2004], viz, ‘to maintain a “Church of England” as opposed to the Church of the Province’.
Trollope’s insistence on provincial status for the Korean Church was not only about ‘going native’ (although Trollope’s ministry was thoroughly inculturated since he had mastered both Korean and Japanese, as well as becoming something of an expert on Korean literature, not to mention its flora and fauna) but primarily about being Catholic. The Korean Church was not to be Anglican but Catholic. Being a province would demonstrate that it was not a branch of a ‘national church’ but part of ‘the great and divine world-wide society known as the Holy Catholic Church’.
Although Naedong Anglican Church in Incheon (see this post) is older than Ganghwa Anglican Church, the former was rebuilt just after the Korean War, making the latter the oldest existent Anglican church in Korea. It is also noteworthy for producing Korea’s first Anglican priest, Father Mark Kim, who was ordained in 1915.
Most importantly, though, the church is a tangible symbol of the efforts made by the early Anglican missionaries to integrate their church into Korean culture and, beyond that, study and learn about the culture in which they found themselves. The early missionaries were scholars — Mark Napier Trollope, for instance, was an Oxford grad who served as president of Royal Asiatic Society-Korea Branch for 13 years. Ganghwa Anglican Church — and indeed, the many hanok Anglican churches throughout Korea — are a testament to that spirit of learning and scholarship.