Simhyangsa Temple – 심향사 (Naju, Jeollanam-do)

The Dry-lacquered Seated Amitabha Buddha of Simhyangsa Temple inside the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.

Temple History

Simhyangsa Temple is located in Naju, Jeollanam-do at the foot of Mt. Geumseonsan. The temple looks out towards the Yeongsan River. It’s believed that Simhyangsa Temple was first established by the famed monk Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.). Originally, the temple was called Mireukwon after Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha). The temple is also said to have been the place where King Hyeonjong of Goryeo (r. 1009-1031 A.D.) prayed for peace as he fled the royal palace. The Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) was being invaded at this time by the Tungusic people of Manchuria in 1011.

The temple was later repaired in 1358. And it was reconstructed by the monk Mongsu in 1789. A ridge beam at Simhyangsa Temple says “The reconstruction of Yonghwa-dang Hall of Sinhwangsa Temple in Mt. Geumseong – in the 54th year of Emperor Qianlong in China” written on it. This writing was discovered after this temple shrine hall was dismantled and restored. This temple shrine hall is currently called the Mireuk-jeon Hall, and it was restored after a rainstorm had damaged it in August, 1976. The restoration was then completed by October, 1977. With this in mind, the temple was once known as Sinhwangsa or Sinwangsa Temple in 1789, when the inscription inside the Mireuk-jeon Hall was written. It’s unknown when the name of the temple changed to Simhyangsa Temple.

In total, there are ten buildings at Simhyangsa Temple, which includes the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall that was constructed in 1982.

In total, Simhyangsa Temple is home to two Korean Treasures. The first is the Three-story Stone Pagoda Outside the North Gate, which is Korean Treasure #50. The other Korean Treasure is the Dry-lacquered Seated Amitabha Buddha of Simhyangsa Temple. This statue is Korean Treasure #1544. Additionally, the entire temple grounds are considered Jeollanam-do Cultural Heritage #88. And the Seokjo-yeorae-jwasang inside the Mireuk-jeon Hall is believed to date back to the Goryeo Dynasty, and it’s classified as Jeollanam-do Cultural Heritage #309. Simhyangsa Temple, as of 2006, also participates in the popular Temple Stay program.

Temple Layout

Simhyangsa Temple is sandwiched between two high school campuses and at the foot of Mt. Geumseongsan. The Iljumun Gate at the temple is rather small in comparison to other temple entry gates with the same name. However, the Iljumun Gate at Simhyangsa Temple isn’t used; instead, there’s a wide open entry to the right that allows visitors to enter the large temple grounds. In line with the Iljumun Gate is the two-story Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion). This entry area of the temple grounds also has the visitors centre to the far right, as well.

Having passed by the Iljumun Gate and the Jong-ru Pavilion, and up a flight of stairs, you’ll enter into the lower courtyard at Simhyangsa Temple. The two temple shrine halls in this area are the Myeongbu-jeon Hall and the Mireuk-jeon Hall. And out in front of these two temple shrine halls are a pair of stone pagodas. While both are beautiful, it’s the three-story stone pagoda to the left, which is officially known as Three-story Stone Pagoda Outside the North Gate, that’s Korean Treasure #50. This pagoda is believed to date back to the late Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). Originally, this pagoda stood, as the official name kind of hints at, at the North Gate of Najueupseong Walled Town. But in 1915, the pagoda was moved to Geumseonggwan Guesthouse, which is Korean Treasure #2037. At this time, the Geumseonggwan Guesthouse was used as a county office. Then in 2006, the pagoda was moved, once more. This time, it was moved to its current location of Simhyangsa Temple. Because of weathering, part of the pagoda has fallen off the three-story structure. And because of its smaller size, locals call the pagoda the “Dwarf Pagoda.”

In front of the pair of pagodas is a sunken area, where you’ll find a pair of five hundred year old hackberry and quince trees. Both seem to have seen better days, but both are still standing, all the same.

To the right rear of the pair of pagodas, on the other hand, is the Mireuk-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this temple shrine hall are beautifully adorned with dancheong colours and floral murals. Stepping inside the Mireuk-jeon Hall, you’ll find a large stone statue dedicated to the Buddha on the main altar. This statue is known as the Seokjo-yeorae-jwasang, and it’s believed to date back to the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). There are murals that are also housed inside the Mireuk-jeon Hall like a mural dedicated to Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha), as well as a Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).

To the rear of the Mireuk-jeon Hall and the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, and up a flight of stone stairs, is the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall. The main hall at Simhyangsa Temple was built in 1982. The exterior walls to the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall are beautifully adorned with a masterful collection of Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life). Also, you’ll find a collection of dragons, both big and small, up in the colourful eaves of the main hall at Simhyangsa Temple.

Stepping inside the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall, you’ll find a solitary statue of Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) on the main altar. This statue is officially known as the Dry-lacquered Seated Amitabha Buddha of Simhyangsa Temple, and it’s Korean Treasure #1544. The statue was created using the dry lacquer method, which was fairly common at this time. Amita-bul has almost an exotic look to his face. The expression on his face is somewhat austere, which was typical of similar statues from the late Goryeo Dynasty. The statue is similar to the age and design of other statues in the Naju region like at the neighbouring Bulhoesa Temple. The statue is believed to have first been created during the late Goryeo Dynasty.

As for the rest of the interior of the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall, you’ll find three murals to the right of the main altar. The first is a simplistic mural dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). This mural is joined to the right by an intricate mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). Dokseong is joined by two dongja and a white crane in this mural, as well as a sneak peak of a portion of a wooden deck in the top left corner of the mural. And hanging on the far right wall is another Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural). To the left of the main altar image of Amita-bul, you’ll find a collection of murals dedicated to famous Korean monks, as well as a shrine and mural dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife).

To the left of the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall, you’ll find the top four stories to a historic pagoda that seems to have lost its bottom stories through the passage of time.

Climbing another flight of stairs to the upper courtyard this time, you’ll find the Samseong-gak Hall to your left. The exterior walls to this hall are adorned with scenic landscapes. Stepping inside the Samseong-gak Hall, you’ll find three newly created and painted reliefs dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit), Chilseong (The Seven Stars), and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).

Across from the Samseong-gak Hall, and through an open field with a trail, you’ll come to a stupa field with a collection of historic stupas of monks that once called Simhyangsa Temple home.

How To Get There

From the Naju Train Station, you’ll need to walk to get to the Naju City Hall bus stop. The walk will take you about nine minutes (513 m). From this stop, you can take one of several buses to get to Simhyangsa Temple. You can take Bus #100, #101, #102, #104, #105, #109, #400, #401, #402, #403, #404, #500, #501, #502, #503, #504, or #505. After five stops, you’ll need to get off at the “Baekminwon – 백민원” bus stop. After walking about twenty-five minutes, or 1.8 km, you can finally arrive at Simhyangsa Temple.

Another way to get to Simhyangsa Temple from the Naju Train Station is to simply take a taxi. The ride should last about seven minutes (3.6 km), and it’ll cost you around 5,100 won.

Overall Rating: 7/10

While Simhyangsa Temple is little known outside the Naju, Jeollanam-do area, there is quite a bit for people to see and explore like the pair of pagodas at the entry of the temple grounds, as well as the Goryeo Dynasty statue of the Buddha housed inside the Mireuk-jeon Hall. Additionally, all the murals throughout the temple grounds, both inside and outside the temple shrine halls, are first rate. But the main highlight to the temple is the beautiful, historic statue of Amita-bul housed inside the equally beautiful Geukrakbo-jeon Hall at Simhyangsa Temple. So if you’re ever in the Naju area, add Simhyangsa Temple to your list of temples you need to visit.

The diminutive Iljumun Gate at Simhyangsa Temple.
The Jong-ru (Bell Pavilion) just beyond the Iljumun Gate.
The Three-story Stone Pagoda Outside the North Gate with the Mireuk-jeon Hall and Geukrakbo-jeon Hall in the background.
The Seokjo-yeorae-jwasang statue from the Goryeo Dynasty inside the Mireuk-jeon Hall.
The beautiful danceong colours and view from the Mireuk-jeon Hall towards the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.
Some of the dragons adorning the eaves of the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.
One of the murals from the Palsang-do set that adorns the exterior walls of the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.
The main altar inside the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall of the Dry-lacquered Seated Amitabha Buddha of Simhyangsa Temple.
The mural dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint) inside the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall.
To the left of the Geukrakbo-jeon Hall is the top four stories of a stone pagoda. And in the background is the Samseong-gak Hall.
The colourful reliefs inside the Samseong-gak Hall of Sanshin (left), Chilseong (centre), and Dokseong (right).

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