Wibongsa Temple – 위봉사 (Wanju, Jeollabuk-do)

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The stately Ijumun Gate at Wibongsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Located on the south-western slopes of Mt. Wibongsan is Wibongsa Temple. There’s some disagreement as to when Wibongsa Temple was first established. Some believe that Wibongsa was first constructed in 604 A.D. by the monk Seoam-daesa. Others, on the other hand, believe that it was created by Choe Yonggak at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). According to this story, and the legend that surrounds it, the temple was named Wibongsa Temple because while riding a horse one day, he looked around at the features of the land and it looked like three phoenixes were wrapped around it. Later, in 1358, the famed monk Naong rebuilt and enlarged the temple in 1358. Then, in 1466, the temple was repaired by Seokjam-daesa.

You first approach the temple grounds through the top-heavy, yet stoic, Iljumun Gate. It’s a fine example of Korean Buddhist architecture. The next structure to line up with the Iljumun Gate is the Cheonwangmun Gate, which houses four contemplative Heavenly Kings. It’s through the third, and final entry-like gate, the Boje-ru Pavilion, that you’ll gain admittance to the Wibongsa Temple courtyard.

To your right, as you enter the courtyard, is a larger sized Beopjong-gak bell pavilion, as well as the nuns’ dorms and a centrally located mature twisted red pine. But beyond all these is the temple’s main hall, the Bogwangmyeon-jeon (The Limitless Light Hall). This hall is designated Treasure #608. The shrine hall houses a triad of statues on the main altar. In the centre sits a seated statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). He’s joined on either side by two standing statues dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power and Wisdom for Amita-bul). It’s believed that this hall was first constructed during the mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Behind the main altar is a large all-white image of Gwanseeum-bosal. There are several older paintings spread throughout the interior of various Biseon playing musical instruments. The main altar’s canopy is decorated with dragons and yeouiju (a magic stone).

To the right of the main hall is the Nahan-jeon. The exterior walls to this hall are decorated with some fine depictions of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). Housed inside this hall on the main altar is Seokgamoni-bul, who is then joined by colourful statues of the Nahan.

To the left of the main hall is the Yosa-jeon and Gwaneum-jeon Halls. Kinda a two for one deal. This historic building is shaped like an “I” with the two dorms acting as bookends with the central room housing the Gwaneum-jeon shrine hall.

And to the left rear of the grounds is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. Either this building has been newly built or refurbished. Either way, the colourful interior is complimentary to the three shaman murals that hang inside this shaman shrine hall. Still in the upper courtyard, but off-limits, is the Wibong Seonwon for nuns to meditate in at the temple.

HOW TO GET THERE: To get to Wibongsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do, you’ll first need to get to neighbouring Jeonju. From the city of Jeonju, take local Bus #806 and get off at Wibong Village. From there, you can either walk or take a taxi (if you can locate one).

Or you can go to Wibong Village or take a bus from Jeonju, Buses #814 or #838 and get off near neighbouring Songgwangsa Temple. From the temple, you can either walk the  distance (about six kilometres) or take a taxi (again, if you can locate one).

OVERALL RATING: 7/10. While beautifully situated under the mountainous peaks of Mt. Wibongsan, Wibongsa Temple’s main highlight is the Bogwangmyeon-jeon. This hall, which is dedicated to Amita-bul, houses several features like the ornately decorated canopy and the large mural on the backside of the main altar.

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The welcoming gates at Wibongsa Temple.

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A look through the Iljumun Gate at the Cheonwangmun Gate.

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One of the Four Heavenly Kings.

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A look at the Boje-ru Pavilion at Wibongsa Temple.

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 The central highlight at Wibongsa Temple: the Bogwangmyeon-jeon.

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The main altar inside the Bogwangmyeon-jeon.

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The painting of Gwanseeum-bosal on the backside of the main altar.

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Just one of the Biseon paintings floating around the main hall.

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The view from the Nahan-jeon towards the main hall.

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One of the masterful Nahan paintings adorning the exterior walls of the Nahan-jeon.

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A look inside the Nahan-jeon at the main altar.

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The Yosa-jeon/Gwaneum-jeon at Wibongsa Temple.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall.

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A look inside the colourful shrine hall.

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The temple’s main courtyard.

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate towards the Iljumun Gate, as it was time to go.

Songgwangsa Temple – 송광사 (Wanju, Jeollabuk-do)

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A look through the Cheonwangmun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do.

Hello Again Everyone!!

Songgwangsa Temple in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do, not to be confused with the more famous temple by the same name in Suncheon, Jeollanam-do, was first constructed in 867 A.D. by the monk Bojo-jejing. Originally, the temple was called Baekryongsa Temple, but the temple was eventually renamed by the famed monk Jinul (1158-1210) during the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). The temple was largely destroyed during the Imjin War (1592-98), but was later rebuilt in 1620. It was completely restored to its former glory when King Injo (r. 1623-49) designated the temple as a special place for praying for the welfare of the nation as well as for the safe return of his two sons that had been taken hostage by the Qing Dynasty. King Injo was to call Songgwangsa Temple the “great temple of Zen Buddhism.” Interestingly, it’s believed that the main hall, Nahan-jeon, and/or the Jijang-jeon perspire in times of national crisis as well as to one’s prayers. In total, the temple houses three designated Korean Treasures.

Because of its former large size and prominence, the Iljumun Gate that stands at the temple entry was previously located three kilometers away. In more recent times, in 1944, the Iljumun Gate was relocated. In its current location, the uniquely designed gate welcomes any and all visitors to Songgwangsa Temple.

The next gate to welcome you, which is perfectly aligned with the Iljumun Gate, is the Geumgangmun Gate (or Diamond Gate). Passing through this gate, you’ll notice two warriors known as Geumgang-yeoksa housed inside, as well as the child-like Munsu-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom) and Bohyun-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Power).

Just beyond this gate is the largest of the three introductory gates at Songgwangsa Temple. This gate is the Cheonwangmun Gate and it houses Treasure #1255 inside, which is a bit misleading because there are four statues that comprise the designated Treasure. Housed inside this hall are the Four Heavenly Kings that were first made in 1624. Built from clay, they are the oldest of their kind in Korea.

Finally emerging on the other side of the impressive temple gates, you’ll be welcomed by the temple’s bell pavilion slightly to the left. The bell pavilion is Treasure #1244, and it’s the only cross-shaped two-story bell pavilion ever built during the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). To the right of the bell pavilion, and past the jovial Podae-hwasang statue, are the Jijang-jeon and the Geukrak-jeon. Inside the Jijang-jeon is a large green-haired statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife), and he’s joined by ten equally large-sized statues of the Ten Kings of the Underworld. Rather plainly, Amita-bul sits alongside Gwanseeum-bosal and Daesaeji-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Wisdom and Power for Amita-bul) on the main altar inside the Geukrak-jeon.

But it’s the Daeung-jeon main hall, with the pyramids of colourful paper lanterns out in front of it that’s the highlight to Songgwangsa Temple. Designated Treasure #1243, the main hall dates back to 1636, when it was rebuilt by National Preceptor Byeogam-guksa. Housed inside this massive main hall are three equally massive clay statues that date back to 1641. Seated in the centre sits Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha), who is joined on either side by Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) and Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). The ceiling of this hall is beautifully adorned with floating Biseon. The exterior walls are uniquely painted with various large-sized guardian murals.

To the immediate left of the main hall is the rather long Gwaneum-jeon. On the far right wall of the hall is a intricately sculpted statue of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), who is backed by an equally elaborate mural of herself.

To the rear of the main hall are three additional shrine halls that visitors can explore, as well as a large statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul (The Medicine Buddha). Next to this simple, yet elegant statue of the Buddha of Medicine is the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall. All three paintings housed inside this hall are expertly rendered, but it’s the central painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) that stands out for its originality and complexity.

To the right of the Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall is the Nahan-jeon, which was first constructed in 1656. Seokgamoni-bul is surrounded, uniquely, by the sixteen Nahan, as well as the expanded 500 Nahan. The sixteen are more expressive and large in size, but the smaller ones are beautiful, as well. To the far right sits the temple’s Yaksa-jeon.

HOW TO GET THERE: From the neighbouring city of Jeonju, you can take Local Bus #806, #814, or #838 and get off at Songgwangsa Temple.

OVERALL RATING: 8/10. The three gates that welcome you to Songgwangsa Temple are really second-to-none in Korea. With their Treasures, as well as beautiful symmetry, they are something not to pass up. Then when you add into the mix all that the Daeung-jeon has to offer in both paintings, as well as historic statues, and you should find your way over to Wanju, Jeollabuk-do to explore Songgwangsa Temple.

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A look through the Iljumun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.

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And a look at the Geumgangmun Gate.

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One of the Vajra warriors inside the Geumgangmun Gate.

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The child-like Munsu-bosal inside the gate, as well.

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Finally, the Cheonwangmun Gate at Songgwangsa Temple.

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A look inside at the historic Heavenly Kings.

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The treasured bell pavilion at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The jovial Podae-hwasang with the Geukrak-jeon in the background.

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A look inside the Geukrak-jeon at the main altar.

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A look towards the neighbouring Jijang-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.

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Some of the temple’s artwork.

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The temple’s amazing main hall.

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Some of the stone masonry outside the Daeung-jeon.

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A look inside the main hall at the massive 17th century altar pieces.

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A long view of the Gwaneum-jeon at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The main altar inside the Gwaneum-jeon with the Bodhisattva of Compassion seated all by herself.

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The stone statue dedicated to Yaksayore-bul.

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The Samseong-gak shaman shrine hall at Songgwangsa Temple.

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The intricate painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars).

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And a look towards the mountains and the Nahan-jeon.