About 4,000 couples from more than 50 countries exchanged wedding vows at a mass wedding. The couples were members of South Korea's controversial Unification Church, commonly known as 'Moonies' after their late founder and 'Messiah' the Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

moonies mass wedding
Approximately 3,800 couples from around the world exchanged wedding vows Chung Sung-Jun/Getty Images

Another 12,000 couples joined in via the internet, according to the church, located in Gapyeong, about 75km (50 miles) from Seoul.

More than 20,000 church followers and guests gathered at the venue for the ceremony as well.

The church, officially called the Family Federation for World Peace and Unification, was founded in 1954 by Reverend Sun Myung Moon.

Born in Jeongju, North Korea in 1920, Moon founded his religious movement in 1954. He said that when he was 15 Jesus appeared to him and demanded he set up God's kingdom on Earth.

Moon, who declared that he and his wife were messiahs in 1992, died in 2012 at the age of 93.

Moon's wife Hak Ja Han Moon officiated at the mass wedding ceremony. She sprinkled "holy water" over a group of couples called onto the stage and declared them bound in wedlock.

The church has come under fire for its mass weddings because couples are matched by the church with future spouses whom some of them have just met before the ceremony, and in many cases, do not speak the same language.

"We got to know each other in this past year and we came to the commitment of our relationship a few month ago and this is the most important day of our life to receive god blessing and marriage. We are just very happy to be here," said 25-year-old Stefano Bianchini from Italy, who had just married his wife from the Netherlands.

Twenty-year-old church follower, Michael Schroder from the United Kingdom, said he met his wife from Japan a few days ago for the first time. "Really excited. Everyone is so happy to finally get married and be with their spouses."

Moon preferred brides and grooms from different racial backgrounds as he believed in the creation of a multicultural religious world.

Critics have vilified the group as heretical and a dangerous personality cult, questioning its murky finances and accusing it of indoctrinating followers. The church denies that, though Moon had been jailed for tax evasion.