Why are there so many Western-style Churches in Daegu?

published by Devon Furbush
Some of the earliest evidence of westernization, influence with ideas and characteristics of the Occident, in South Korea can be seen in Daegu. Founded by American missionary William M. Baird in 1893, First Presbyterian Church (Old Jaeil Church) was the first of its kind in Gyeongbuk. Not long after he was sent to Seoul as an education advisor in 1896, missionary James E. Adams became pastor of this church the following year. He was joined by his wife Nellie Dick, their children, and their Korean language teacher.

Fun fact: Nellie Dick was the first American to pass away in Daegu. On November 1, 1897, she took her oldest son Edward and made their way to Daegu to join James on his missionary work. Her accomplishments include founding Childhood Sunday School of the South Gate Chapel and serving as the school principal. After the birth of her fourth child, she suffered from postpartum sequelae and died at the age of 43 on October 31, 1909. Inscribed on her tombstone reads "She is not dead but just sleepeth."

Sitting directly next to the Korean Oriental Medicine Museum on Yangyeong-si, this massive red brick Gothic-style church is hard to miss. Evidence of the old Daegu-eup seong fortress can be seen here as leftover stones are used as the foundation. Though this is the official First Presbyterian Church, it isn’t the original building. This one was built in 1933. The first location was in a lot purchased by Reverend William M. Baird that contained five straw houses and a tile-roof house. Later on, at the same site around 1907, an additional single-story building was included due to the growing number of church attendants. This was the inspiration for several other churches throughout the pre-Japanese period. By 1914, the nearby Sawol Church, built in 1898, had a total of eight sister churches.

Hospitals and Schools

On top of all of this, even non-secular western influence continued to sweep across Daegu. Dr. Woodbridge Johnson founded Dongsan Medical Center in 1898, James Adams founded Huido School and the Keisung schools in 1906, and Martha Bruen and her husband Rev. Henry established Sinmyeong HS in 1907. However, during this time Japanese troops began to move heavily into Daegu which caused confusion among local citizens. This mixture of East and West led Koreans to question whether to accept or reject the influx of new cultures.

The Garden of Mercy

Located down the steps in front of the Chamness Residence on Cheongra Hill is The Garden of Mercy. This small plot of land is the final resting place for the families and missionaries who dedicated their lives to spreading missionary work and helping to advance medical services in Daegu. In the face of all of the difficulties and hardships that came with living in Korea during the early 1900s, (ie: Japanese occupation, famine, etc) these families encouraged the community, built schools, spread western culture, and established medical centers that would forever have an impact on the entire country.

The headstones are those of:

  • Nellie Dick Adams (1866-1909)
  • Magda Elizabeth Khler (1887-1913)
  • Chase Crandford Sawtell (1881-1909)
  • Joel Robert Henderson (1964)
  • Henderson Buddy (1920-1921)
  • Ruth Bernsten (1918-1919)
  • Helen McGee Winn (1913)
  • Barbara F. Chamness
  • John Hamilton Dawson (1926-2007)
  • Martha Scott Bruen (1875-1930)
  • Anna Bruen Klerekoper (1905-2004)
  • Harriette Bruen Davis (1910-2004)
  • Martha Switzer
  • John Rawson Sibly (1926-2012)
  • Howard Fergus Moffett (1917-2013)
  • Margaret Delle Moffett (1915-2010)

Gyesan Catholic Cathedral

Gyesan Catholic Cathedral, built in 1902, was the first western-style church to be constructed in Daegu. Even though First Presbyterian Church was already founded and established, its Gothic-style architecture seen today wasn't added until 1933. This one was also the third Gothic-influenced church constructed on the Korean peninsula after Seoul and Pyeongyang.

Gyesan Cathedral Address: 10, Seoseong-ro, Jung-gu, Daegu

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