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It is the largest of various ancestral rites in terms of scale and importance, and so it is also called Jongmyo Daeje, or the Grand Ancestral Rite at Jongmyo. National ancestral rituals during the Joseon Dynasty days were classified into three categories of grand rituals, medium rituals and minor rituals, and Jongmyo Jerye was classified
as a solemn grand rite, together with services at Sajikdan, with the reigning king in person observing the services. In Confucian society, it was believed that when people die, their spirits go to heaven and their bodies to earth. So, they preserved the bodies in graves, while they observed memorial services at shrines where the spirits were worshipped. "Yegi," or a code of propriety and rituals, one of the Confucian scriptures, classified his teachings on the subject into five categories: gilrye (auspicious rite), hyungrye (funeral rites), gunrye (military rites), binrye
(reception ceremonies), and garye (wedding ceremonies). Out of the five, it most valued gilrye, which concerned about ancestral rites, and emphasized that the ancestral rites constituted the basic act of filial piety.
In the Joseon Dynasty days when Confucianism was the fundamental philosophy in governing the state, the act of ancestral worship was considered the most important virtue, and the ancestral rite was especially valued. From the ancient days, therefore, it was customary when a dynasty was founded and its palace site determined, Jongmyo and Sajikdan were constructed without fail to pay homage to the ancestors for thier favors and indebtednesses, and pray for the blessings of Heaven and various gods for national security and abundant crops for the people. In addition, the national prayer services included Cheonshinje, or services for Heaven, and Sajikje, prayer services for Jishin, or the God of Earth and Grains. The first historic Jecheon (Rite for Heaven) in the Joseon Dynasty was recorded as having occurred in 1398, the 7th year of King Taejo's reign, and when the dynasty declared a state of empire in 1897, the Jecheon ritual was observed at Wongudang (Historic Site No. 157). Sajik Daeje (Important Invisible Cultural Property No. 111), meanwhile, is being observed every year at Sajikdan.