Colonial Korea: Bunhwangsa Temple – 분황사 (Gyeongju)

Bunhwangsa8 - 1916

The Three Tier Stone Pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple, in Gyeongju, in 1916.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Just east of the Gyeongju city centre, which was the capital of the ancient Silla Dynasty (57 B.C. to 935 A.D.) lays the beautiful Bunhwangsa Temple. Bunhwangsa Temple means “Fragrant Emperor Temple,” in English, and it was first constructed in 634 A.D. under the patronage of the famed Queen Seondeok (r. 632-647 A.D.).

During the height of the Silla Dynasty, and alongside the expansive Hwangnyongsa-ji Temple Site, Bunhwangsa Temple covered a large swath of land. In fact, Bunhwangsa Temple was one of the four major temples of the Silla Dynasty. During this time, Bunhwangsa Temple was only used by the state to ask the Buddha’s blessing on the nation. So unlike today, the average citizen wasn’t welcomed at the temple.

Such famed monks as Wonhyo-daesa (617-686) and Jajang-yulsa (590-658) called Bunhwangsa Temple home at one time or another. Then, during the 1200s, the invading Mongols completely destroyed Bunhwangsa Temple. It nearly took until the 1700s, a full five hundred years after its destruction, to be rebuilt.

In 1915, during Japanese Colonial rule, the Japanese decided to repair and rebuild the famed pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple. At this time, numerous relics were found housed inside the pagoda like a box that contained sari (crystallized remains). The remains appeared to once belong to a monk. In addition to the sari box, relics like gold, scissors, coins and a needle case was found inside the pagoda. Who these relics specifically belong to are unknown; however, because they are a woman’s items, some people speculate that they once belonged to a royal woman.

By far, the main highlight at Bunhwangsa Temple is the three-story brick pagoda. The Stone Brick Pagoda at Bunhwangsa Temple, as it’s known in English, also just so happens to be National Treasure #30. Like the temple, the pagoda dates back to 634 A.D. The age of the pagoda makes it the oldest datable Silla stone pagoda still in existence. The black bricks are made from andesite stone. Missionaries returning from Tang China described the beauty of their pagodas, so the queen decided to replicate the popular pagodas of that time. In its current form, the Bunhwangsa Temple pagoda stands three stories in height. However, it’s believed that the pagoda once stood nine stories in height and was hallow inside. Just like its height, the centre of the pagoda is now solid. Before, the interior of the pagoda was so large that Buddhist scriptures were housed inside. At each of the four corners of the pagoda there were four lion statues. Of the four, only one still remained in the 1970s. So at that time, the three were replaced with all new ones.

While considerably smaller in size, Bunhwangsa Temple reveals small glimpses back into its past. In total, Bunhwangsa Temple houses one National Treasure and three additional provincial Tangible Cultural Properties, as well.

Bunhwangsa - 1916

The flag supports at Bunhwangsa Temple in 1916. In the background, you can see the three tier brick pagoda.

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Some of the stone work around the temple in 1917.

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What the Three Tier Stone pagoda looked like before being renovated by the Japanese in 1916

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The blueprints behind the architectural rebuild in 1916.

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A closer look at how dilapidated and in disrepair the pagoda had fallen into.

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A closer look at the pagoda after being repaired.

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The only original tiger that remained to adorn the ancient pagoda.

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How the pagoda looked after being repaired by the Japanese in 1916.

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And how National Treasure #30 looked in 2011.

Picture 250 - 2011

A closer look from 2011, as well.

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One of the remade lions that adorns one of the pagoda’s four corners in 2011.

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A closer look at one of the four openings around the base of the brick pagoda in 2006.

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And another look at the ancient pagoda in 2006.

One thought on “Colonial Korea: Bunhwangsa Temple – 분황사 (Gyeongju)

  1. Pingback: Colonial Korea: Bunhwangsa Temple – 분황사 (Gyeongju) | Dale’s Korean Temple Adventures – The Tiger and The Bear

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