Before I watched Jo Hyun Jae’s “Love Letter”, I had no idea that Roman Catholicism is so widely practiced in Korea. According to Wikipedia, there are over 5.1 million Roman Catholics in South Korea – over 10% of the population.
South Korea (and by extension the Roman Catholic Church in all Korea, north and south) has the fourth largest number of saints in the Roman Catholic Church (since 1984) by nation. There are 15 dioceses including three archdioceses of Seoul, Taegu and Gwangju.
Since “Love Letter” is a drama that follows the journey of a young man on his road to the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, it is inevitable that Roman Catholic churches in South Korea would provide the backdrop for much of the story. Three Roman Catholic churches were prominently used in the drama.
Junglin-dong Yakhyun Catholic Church
This is the church that is the setting for the very first scene of “Love Letter” when Andrea is ordained as a priest (also in the last episode when the ordination is finally completed.) This very elegant church, built with bricks, is just 32m. long, 12m. wide and has a 22m. high bell tower. It has no complicated ornamentation but it evokes a feeling of solemnity, and has become the model for Korean church construction.
Some information on Junglin-dong Yakhyun Catholic Church:
Designation: Historic site no. 252.
Period: Joseon Dynasty 1892.
This is the first western-style cathedral to be built in Korea. “Yakhyun” is the name of the hill between Malli-dong and Seoul Railroad Station. Long ago the area was covered with fields of medicinal herbs, “yakhyun” meaning “full of medicinal herb fields”, hence the name of the church.
Here are some pictures of the exterior and interior of the Junglin-dong Yakhyun Catholic Church.
Exterior shots (photos taken from the internet):
Interior of the church (photos from the internet):
Interior of the church (scenes from “Love Letter”):
Pungsuwon Catholic Church
Copied from an inscription on the grounds: Kang-won-do Tangible Cultural Property No.69
This is the first gothic-styled Catholic church built in Kang-won-do Province. It stands on the site of the fourth oldest Catholic church in Korea, started in 1888, the 27th year of the reign of King Kojong (r.1863-1907), by a French priest, Father Louis Le Merre (Korean name: Yi Ryu-sa) in a room of a thatch-roofed cottage. Catholics took refuge in this area in the wake of the government oppression of 1801, 1866 and 1871, the latter two being repercussions of the French and American attacks of these years.
The church was designed by Father Le Merre’s successor, Father Chong Kye-ha (Augustin, 1863-1943), and built in 1906-7 with the technical advice of Chinese artisans and the labour of the whole congregation.
Pungsuwon Catholic Church is used extensively in “Love Letter” and appears in many episodes from beginning to end. It is Andrea’s uncle Father Peter’s parish church. In the drama there appears to be an orphanage attached. The grounds are beautiful and the interior of the church is simple but serene. This is the place where Andrea grows up and where he and Eun-Ha discover one another. And this is also the refuge that Eun-Ha returns to when she discovers her illness.
Here are some photos of Pungsuwon Catholic Church which I gathered from the internet:
Photos of Pungsuwon Church from scenes in “Love Letter”:
There is a small church that is used in Episodes 3 and 4 (when Andrea and Eun-Ha return from university) and again in Episode 12. I do not know its name or designation, just that it is 20 minutes away by car from Pungsuwon Catholic Church. It is not as grand as the other two, but there seems to be a rustic quality about it that is very endearing. And of course it has that famous bench on which JHJ sat.
Chinese fan “M” mentioned this small church in her fan account of her trip to South Korea in July 2009.
Since I don’t know the name of this small church I can’t search for photos on the internet, but here are some screen captures from scenes from “Love Letter”. The screencaps below are from Episode 12.
This is how this small church looks in recent years. I do not know when the big statue outside was added. (Photo courtesy of wulijohyunjae, taken in 2009.)
It took me such a long time (months!) to finish this particular post. Every time I have to take screen captures of certain scenes for use in this post, I always (without fail!) end up watching “Love Letter” again. And every time I watch this drama, I always end up crying again.
There are plenty of Korean dramas I started to watch but never finished, dropped them after a few episodes for various reasons. “Love Letter”, on the other hand, I have watched countless times already and I still never get bored with it. It is not perfect, I think the perfect drama does not exist. What “Love Letter” is – it is a beautiful drama, with a beautiful central character in Andrea, beautifully portrayed by our dear Hyun Jae.
Credit: Photos as labelled.