Jongmyo Shrine is dedicated to the spirits of Korea's royal
ancestors. The royal family of the Joseon Dynasty paid homage
to their forefathers in the time-honored Confucian tradition.
This sedate shrine of beautiful architectural simplicity is
appreciated as an invaluable cultural inheritance and was registered
on UNESCO's World Cultural Heritage List in 1995.
Jongmyo Shrine is made up of Jeongjeon (the main hall), Yeongnyeongjeon
(the Hall of Eternal Peace), and auxiliary facilities. Jeongjeon,
with its attached cloister, is said to have been the longest
building in Asia. It enshrines the memorial tablets of greatly
honored kings and their queens, today containing 19 memorial
tablets of kings and 30 tablets of their queens in 19 spirit
Jongmyo Jerye, or the Royal Ancestral Rite, was one of the most
important government events during the Joseon period. It was
conducted five times annually. Additional rites were also performed
on special state occasions to notify the ancestral spirits of
the events. The king himself became an officiant who offered
repetitive bows and liquor before each chamber according to
strict procedures maintaining an austere ambiance.
Each procedure is accompanied by ritual music, Botaepyeong and
Jeongdaeeop.The orchestral ensemble is composed of Chinese-derived
and native string, percussion and wind instruments including
bell chimes (pyeonjong), stone chimes (pyeongyeong), the cylindrical
Chinese oboe (dangpiri), the bowed zither (ajaeng), and the
transverse flute (daegeum), which still capture the authentic
form of the old court music that has been played since the early
Joseon period. The head of the dynasty's Jeonju Yi Clan still
officiates at the annual rite on the first Sunday of May.
Jongmyo was built in 1394, when the Joseon Dynasty moved their
capital from Gaeseong to Hanyang (the present Seoul), but was
burnt to the ground during the Japanese invasion of Korea in
1592. The reconstruction was planned in 1604 and completed in
1608, the 1st year of Gwanghaegun (r. 1608-1623).
Jongmyo Jerye, the royal ancestral rite, is certainly a historical
rarity in the world, with 500-year old formalities for ancestral
worship set in 1462. It keeps intact the original procedures
for the offering of sacrificial gifts of food and drink in authentic
ritual utensils, with royal descendents and participants costumed
by rank, as well as ritual dance and music ensembles.