Seonamsa Temple – 선암사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)


 The picturesque Seungseon-gyo Bridge that welcomes you to Seonamsa Temple in Jogyesan Provincial Park.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Seonamsa Temple, which means “Heavenly Rock Temple,” in English, is located on the eastern slope of Mt. Jogyesan on the west end of Mt. Jogyesan Provincial Park. Legend has it that the missionary monk, Ado, built a hermitage named Biroam Hermitage in the same location as the present day Seonamsa Temple in 529 A.D. Some 350 years later, in 861 A.D., National Master Doseon-guksa built a large sized temple and called it its present name, Seonamsa Temple. Seonamsa Temple played a central role in the development of Seon Buddhism in Korea. Also, many Buddhist masters have practiced and taught at Seonamsa Temple after attaining enlightenment. During the Imjin War, which lasted from 1592-1598, several buildings at Seonamsa Temple were destroyed. More recently, since 1992, restoration plans have been enacted to restore the temple to its original 11th century form. In total, Seonamsa Temple houses 19 cultural properties in its halls and museum.

To get to Seonamsa Temple from the parking lot, you’ll have to first walk a kilometer. Along the way, you’ll come across collections of ancient stupas. You’ll know you’re just about to arrive at the temple when you see two rainbow shaped bridges to your right. The first of the two is rather nondescript; but it’s from the first that you get a great view of the beautiful Seungseon-gyo Bridge, which lies a little further up the valley. This beautiful bridge was first constructed in 1713 by monk Hoan. It was built over a six year period, and it’s one of the most beautiful you’ll see in all of Korea. If you look carefully, you can see a dragon at the base of the bridge. This is meant to chase away evil spirits. You can get some great pictures from the base of the river that runs under it, but there’s no set of stairs, so be careful.

The next site you’ll see at the temple is a pavilion, the Gangseon Pavilion, which welcomes you to the temple grounds. Just to the right, you’ll see a beautiful oval shaped pond with an island of pink flowers in its centre.

A little further up, and up a pretty good incline of a road, you’ll finally come to the Iljumun Gate at Seonamsa Temple. The current gate dates back to 1719, after the original was destroyed by fire in 1540. After having passed through the Iljumun Gate, you’ll next come to the overly commercialized percussion hall. The walls are crammed with needless knick knacks that puts a bit of a bad taste in the mouth of a visitor to the temple. To the right, between the two gates, is the temple’s rather unassuming bell pavilion.

Finally making your way past the campy percussion hall, and to the right, you’ll suddenly find yourself in the main temple courtyard with the Daeung-jeon, the main hall, front and centre. In front of the main hall are two three-storied stone pagodas. Both pagodas date back to the 9th century and are simplistic in design. They are designated National Treasure #395. Being framed by the twin pagodas is the Daeung-jeon. The exterior walls of the Daeung-jeon at Seonamsa Temple are extremely plain all but for the dancheong paint patterns. Housed inside the main hall is a solitary seated statue of Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This statue is backed by a vibrant painting on the main altar.

To the right of the main hall is the Myeongbu-jeon hall, which is dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). Sitting on the main altar inside this hall is a green haired seated statue of Jijang-bosal. He’s surrounded on all sides by ten statues and paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.

Through a path that leads past the main hall and the Myeongbu-jeon hall, you’ll emerge on the other side on the upper terrace of the temple grounds. This treed and flowering area houses five shrine halls. The first, and the furthest to the right, is the beautiful and historic Palsang-jeon. The hall is believed to date back to sometime before the 18th century. There are ten Buddha statues on the main altar, centred by Seokgamoni-bul. These statues are backed by copies of the original Palsang-do paintings. The exterior walls of the interior hall are adorned with copies of the original Nahan paintings.

Next to the Palsang-jeon is the Buljo-jeon. Inside this hall are rows of both paintings and statues of the Buddha. Between these two halls, and up on a little ledge, is the Wontong-jeon, which is dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This hall was first constructed in 1660, and the statue of Gwanseeum-bosal inside this hall is beautifully ornate.

Next to the Buljo-jeon hall is the Josa-jeon hall, which houses eight paintings of monks who helped shape Seonamsa Temple. This hall stands next to a rather original lily pond. Past the shrubbery, and out on the other side, you’ll see the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall that houses a painting of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) and a cartoonish looking tiger to keep him company.

Admission to the temple is 2,000 won.

HOW TO GET THERE: First, you’ll have to get to the Suncheon Jonghap Bus Terminal (순천종합버스터미널). From the bus terminal, you’ll need to take either Bus #1 or #16 to get to the Seonamsa Temple bus stop. Once you arrive, you’ll need to walk a kilometre to the trail.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. Just for the sheer number of cultural properties alone that can be found at Seonamsa Temple, it deserves this rating. But when you add into the mix the Seungseon-gyo Bridge, the original looking Wontong-jeon Hall, and the historic Iljumun Gate, well, you get the picture. In combination with the neighbouring Songgwangsa Temple, it can make for quite the day.


 The scenic river valley that leads up to Seonamsa Temple.


 Some of the stupas that greet you along the way.


 The view under the Seungseon-gyo Bridge up at the Gangseon Pavilion.


 A better look at the Gangseon Pavilion and ravine that runs beside it.


 The beautiful oval shaped pond that welcomes you to the temple.


 The first look up at the Iljumun Gate.


 A better look at the historic gate.


 The unassuming bell pavilion at Seonamsa Temple.


 The Daeung-jeon main hall at Seonamsa Temple with one of the 9th century stone pagodas out in front of it.


 A look inside the main hall at the solitary statue of Seokgamoni-bul.


 The corridor that leads to the upper courtyard at the temple. To the left is the Myeongbu-jeon.


 The main altar inside the Myeongbu-jeon hall with Jijang-bosal front and centre. He’s joined by the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


 One of the paintings of the Ten Kings of the Underworld.


 The somewhat forested upper courtyard at the temple.


 The first hall to the right is the Palsang-jeon.


 A look inside at the altar inside the Palsang-jeon hall.


 One of the copies of the Nahan paintings that line the walls inside the Palsang-jeon.


 The picturesque view from the Palsang-jeon out onto Mt. Jogyesan.


 The highly unique Wontong-jeon hall.


 Inside is this highly elaborate statue of Gwanseeum-bosal.


The next hall to the left is the Buljo-jeon hall.


 A look inside the Buljo-jeon at the walls of statues and paintings of the Buddha.


The next hall is the Josa-jeon.


 A look inside at just three, of the eight, paintings of historic monks that once lived at Seonamsa Temple.

4 thoughts on “Seonamsa Temple – 선암사 (Suncheon, Jeollanam-do)

  1. Pingback: Exploring the Jogyesan Philosopher’s Hike in Suncheon, South Korea

  2. Thanks for all the great info! You mentioned that it would be a great day combined with Samgwangsa. Is it possible to walk between the two temples? Or how would you get between them (no vehicle here). Thanks!

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