Korean temple holds many treasures

Photos and story for Army.mil and a military newspaper in South Korea.

Korean temple holds many treasures
Story and photos by David McNally

Visitors stand in reverence and awe at the intricate architecture of Bongseon Temple near Namyangju.
Across Korea, Buddhist temples are a common sight. One can see a bit of Korean cultural and religious history in these unique wooden structures.

Many think each temple is the same; however, each one has its own story.
 
Chinese missionaries introduced the Buddhist faith to the peninsula in A.D. 372. Early on, the faith was acknowledged by leaders, but at first, it did not play a significant role in state policies.
 
After 475, according to Jonathan W.Best, Wesleyan University historian, Koreans looked to strengthen diplomatic and cultural ties to China.
 
Royal patronage became a path to centralize and strengthen authority, he said.
 
Bongseonsa (“sa” means temple) was founded in 969 during the reign of King Kwangjong of the Koryo Dynasty.
 
The temple was originally named Unaksa, because of its location at the foot of Mount Unak.
 
During a reorganization during the Joseon Dynasty, the temple was closed for many years. Then, King Sejo chose a nearby site for his royal tomb. After his death, Sejo’s wife ordered the temple reconstructed and named it Bongseonsa, which means, “ancestor serving temple.”
 
Koreans honored King Sejo with traditional ancestral rites at Bongseonsa for many years.
 
Bongseonsa was destroyed during the 1592 Japanese invasion and the 1632 Manchu invasion. During the Korean War, all 14 buildings were reduced to ashes.
 
Today, newly renovated buildings are adorned with colorful paint as Bongseonsa continues to reinvent itself as a center for Buddhist learning and culture. The temple is home to Korean National Treasure No. 379, the “Great Bell of Bongseonsa.” Korean artisans cast the large bronze bell in 1469 to honor King Sejo’s memory.
 
“This bell is important because it was one of two of its kind during this time," said Chong Dokpopsa, a monk at the temple.
 
The temple is also famous for a large 1735 Buddhist painting, which monks hang during rites.
 
Chong said Bongseonsa is the headquarters for 80 Jogye order temples north of the Han River.
 
Bongseonsa, the King Sejo tomb and nearby Korean National Arboretum make for a full day of sightseeing for tourists. The area is about a 40 minute drive northeast of Uijeongbu. For tourist information in Korean, call 031-527-1951 or visit them online athttp://www.bongsunsa.net
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