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Gamgok Catholic Church: Blessing of Virgin Mary

Gamgok Catholic Church sits atop a hill overlooking the town of Gamgok like a sentinel. The land where the church is now used to be the owned by Min Eung-sik, a second cousin of Empress Myeongseong and a major late Joseon-era conservative. During the Mutiny of 1882, when old-guard military units rebelled against the government’s military modernization plans, Min offered the empress sanctuary at his palatial home. After Empress Myeongseong’s assassination in 1895, Min was arrested and brought to Seoul. His home was occupied by loyalist militias, which made it a target of the Japanese Army, which proceeded to burn it down.

The upside to this was that when French priest Father Camillus Bouillon of the Paris Foreign Missions Society came around looking for a place to build a church, he could buy the land for a song.  Or a Gregorian chant, as the case may be.

Gamgok Catholic Church sits atop a hill overlooking the town of Gamgok like a sentinel. The land where the church is now used to be the owned by Min Eung-sik, a second cousin of Empress Myeongseong and a major late Joseon-era conservative. During the Mutiny of 1882, when old-guard military units rebelled against the government’s military modernization plans, Min offered the empress sanctuary at his palatial home. After Empress Myeongseong’s assassination in 1895, Min was arrested and brought to Seoul. His home was occupied by loyalist militias, which made it a target of the Japanese Army, which proceeded to burn it down.

The upside to this was that when French priest Father Camillus Bouillon of the Paris Foreign Missions Society came around looking for a place to build a church, he could buy the land for a song.  Or a Gregorian chant, as the case may be.

It’s said that when Bouillon first saw the massive house (presumably before the Japanese torched it) and the hillside on which it rested, he prayed that if the Virgin Mary were to give him the house and hill, he would become her humble servant, and she would be the patron saint of the church. Well, as it would turn out, the Blessed Virgin Mary held up her end of the bargain (and even got the Imperial Japanese Army to foot the cleanup bill), so Bouillon kept his, establishing a church in May 1896 and dedicating it to the Virgin Mary.

Statue of Virgin Mary

The current Gothic-style church—a miniature version of Myeongdong Cathedral—was built in 1930 (by Chinese laborers), and was designed by French priest Father Pierre Chizallet.

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