Royal Ancestral Worship Shrine in Seoul (World Heritage)

By | August 4, 2021

The Chongmyo Shrine is used to store the royal ancestral tables of the Choson dynasty. The temple complex also houses the oldest shrine for the worship of Confucius and the graves of the royal family.

Seoul Royal Ancestral Worship Shrine: Facts

Official title: Chongmyo Shrine of Royal Ancestral Worship in Seoul
Cultural monument: Above all, the place where the royal ancestral tables are kept, shrines for the veneration of Confucius and graves of the royal family as well as a place for ritual sacred music and sacrifice, with the elongated main hall, the »Hall of Eternal Peace« and the »Hall of Meritorious Followers« (Kongshindang) and Hyangdaech’ong, the place where offerings are prepared
Continent: Asia
Country: South Korea
Location: Seoul
Appointment: 1995
Meaning: oldest authentic Confucian royal shrine

Seoul Royal Ancestral Worship Shrine: History

1392-1910 Rule of the Yi or Choson dynasty
1394-95 Construction of the shrine
1418-50 under King Sejong construction of Yongnyong-jon, installation of the “Hall of Eternal Peace” (1421)
1967 last burial of a royal pedigree after the death of Queen Yun
since 1971 Revival of ritual ceremonies

Fixed steps in eight rows

They bend one knee while lifting the other leg three times, swing their arms in a circular motion, bend their bodies in front of the shrine, and bow to the east and west. Eight rows of eight students each, dressed in raspberry-red robes, with black headgear, from which paddle-like structures protrude, perform the »Ilmu«, the »dance in line«. According to the props that the dancers hold in their hands, they embody the “Yangban” – literally “two classes” – the Korean aristocracy in their civil or military function.

It is the first Sunday in May: a contrast program in noisy, modern Seoul according to a2zgov. In a park of lush greenery, the Chongmyo, “ancestral temple of the ruling family,” briefly awakens to a life forced into a time-honored, ceremonial corset. “Organizer” is the patrilineal organization of the extended Yi family, which is made up exclusively of the male descendants of the ancestor Yi Taejo.

Among those present who actively participate in the ritual may also be the current head of this extended family, who, if Korea still had a monarchy, would now be king. Instead of ruling subjects as a monarch, the current head pursues a civil profession as an architect; the residence is not Seoul, but distant California.

The Koreans took over from the Chinese to build the most important palaces and complexes of their rulers in the north of the capital. Like a roof extending from west to east, they shield the city, the country and its residents from harmful influences from the north. The ruler on his throne looks into the auspicious south, the subject who comes before him with his concerns into the unhappy north.

In Seoul, this protective roof is supported by two pillars, in the middle of which is the royal palace: in the west the altar, where worship was once offered to the gods of the earth and the good harvest, and in the east the Chongmyo, where the ancestral tables were kept and worshiped of kings. This trinity is a pledge for the well-being of the land. It finds its personal expression in the king, who sacrifices to the gods and is the descendant of a number of powerful ancestors.

The main hall, which consists of a long row of individual chambers and opens to the south, contains the ancestral tables of 18 kings. In the second, smaller hall there are the ancestral tables of twelve less significant ruling couples and four ancestors of the dynasty’s founder. These two wooden buildings reflect the austere and sober Confucian philosophy, which tends to be understatement, in their masterful simplicity they express timeless aesthetic discipline and elementary strength, in their proportions they embody the harmony of architecture with nature – and in front of its backdrop with the timeless weight of generations rolls off an archaic, magnificent, solemn spectacle: dressed like ministers at court, the male descendants pay homage to their ancestors, offer each selected food and three goblets of wine. The accompanying royal ceremonial music is a creation of King Sejong, who is extremely important for Korea’s culture and self-image, and to whom Korea owes its writing. Jade sound stones and bronze bells are important instruments for setting this music.

Ancestor worship is one of the Confucian values ​​that are cultivated in Chongmyo; it is the only form of religious practice that Confucius accepted. In short: a person who is powerful and influential during their lifetime is also powerful after their death and is thus able to influence the fate of the living in both a positive and a negative sense. And who could be more powerful and influential than a king?

Royal Ancestral Worship Shrine in Seoul (World Heritage)