Temple Site History
The Manboksa-ji Temple Site is located in Namwon, Jeollabuk-do to the south of Mt. Girinsan (238.9 m). It’s believed that the temple was first built during the reign of King Munjong of Goryeo (r. 1046-1083). At the time of its construction, the temple was quite large in size. According to records, there was a five-story wooden pagoda and a two-story main hall at the temple. And inside the two-story main hall stood a ten metre tall Buddha statue made of bronze. The temple was also used as a backdrop for one of Kim Si-seup’s (1435-1493) stories, Manboksa jeopogi, in the Geumo Sinhwa. Eventually, the temple was destroyed at the same time that the Namwonseong Fortress fell during the Imjin War (1592-1598) in 1597. Since then, the temple hasn’t been restored.
More recently, and from 1979 to 1985, there were seven excavations conducted at the Manboksa-ji Temple Site by the Jeonbuk National University Museum. During this time, the foundations for the various shrine halls, gates, and corridors were discovered. Also discovered on the temple grounds were celadon, white porcelain, and several roof tiles from the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392). And rather interestingly, the layout of the Manboksa-ji Temple Site follows the Goguryeo-style of temple layouts, which gives a greater insight into this style of temple. In total, the temple site is some 3,200 pyeong in size, or 10578.5 m2.
In total, the Manboksa-ji Temple Site is home to four Korean Treasures, and the temple site itself is classified as a Historic Site. The four Korean Treasures are the Five-Story Stone Pagoda at Manboksa Temple Site, which is Korean Treasure #30; the Stone Pedestal at Manboksa Temple Site, which is Korean Treasure #31; the Flagpole Supports at Manboksa Temple Site, which is Korean Treasure #32; and the Stone Standing Buddha at Manboksa Temple Site, which is Korean Treasure #43.
Temple Site Layout
You first enter the temple site grounds from the west. And the first thing to greet you at the Manboksa-ji Temple Site is the Manboksa-ji Seokinsang, or the “Manboksa-ji Stone Statue of a Man” in English. Originally, it was part of a pair some four metres south of the Dangganjiju (flagpole supports). However, since one was so near the road, it was moved to its present location inside the temple site grounds. The stone statue is a square column; however only three of the sides were used to construct the statue’s design. The head of the statue is circular in shape and the eyes protrude out from its head. This gives the statue an angry appearance. The torso of the body is left unclothed, and the right hand is clenched. It’s unclear what it holds in this hand. The clothes have pleats, and the statue has no pedestal. In total, the statue stands some 5.5 metres in height, as it scowls over the rest of the temple site grounds.
A little bit further to the east, but still hugging the roadside embankment, you’ll find the first of the four Korean Treasures at the temple site: the Flagpole Supports at Manboksa Temple Site (T #32). Traditionally, these flagpole supports were used to hoist flags during special Buddhist ceremonies or prayers near the entrance of a temple. The flagpoles were supported by two stone supports. In Korean, these are known as dangganjiju. These two supports are taller in size at the Manboksa-ji Temple Site. In total, each stone support has three holes on them for the flagpole to be affixed to. Since the bottom of the flagpole supports are buried underground, it’s impossible to know the exact size and design of the supports. The flagpole supports are roughly cut and uneven along their surfaces. And they lack any special adornments. Judging from their simplicity, it’s believed that these flagpole supports date back to the early Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392).
To the north of the Flagpole Supports at Manboksa Temple Site is the foundation for the entry gate. Beyond this is a seokdeung daeseok, which is a stone lantern base from the early Goryeo Dynasty. And beyond this is the large foundation for the five-story wooden pagoda. To the right of this central foundation for the former wood pagoda is the foundation for a auxiliary hall, and to the left of the pagoda foundation is yet another foundation for another auxiliary hall. The difference with the western shrine hall foundation is that it has the Stone Pedestal at Manboksa Temple Site, which is Korean Treasure #31, resting in the centre.
The Stone Pedestal at Manboksa Temple Site was designed to hold a statue of the Buddha. The pedestal is engraved with three hexagonal bases with a top, middle, and lower portion to it made from one piece of stone. On the six sides of the lower base, you’ll find the images of elephant eyes, which are joined by floral patterns. The middle part of the base, which is narrower than the other two sections of the pedestal, has short-pole patterns on its six sides. And the top part of the pedestal has a square-hole on top in which the statue of the Buddha would presumably be placed. Unfortunately, the top part of the pedestal’s lotus flower engravings have been damaged beyond repair during the subsequent centuries. The Stone Pedestal at Manboksa Temple Site is believed to have been produced during the 11th century, as it’s hexagonal shape is in contrast to the typical octagonal style of Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.).
To the rear of the three foundations for auxiliary shrine halls and the five-story wooden pagoda is the foundation for the main hall at the Manboksa-ji Temple Site. It’s to the right and rear of the main hall that you’ll find the two other Korean Treasures at the temple site. The first is the Five-Story Stone Pagoda at Manboksa Temple Site, which is Korean Treasure #30. It’s believed that this pagoda was built during the 11th century. The pagoda is quite slender in design, and the top part, above the fourth story of the structure, is missing; thus, leaving only four of the five original stories of the stone structure. The core stone of the first story of the main body is very tall, while those above the second story are comparatively shorter in height. The edges of the pagoda’s core stones are engraved with a pillar pattern. And the upward curve along the bottom of the roof stone gives the pagoda a look of a wooden structure. In total, this pagoda stands 5.75 metres in height. And in 1968, a sari reliquary was discovered inside the pagoda during its renovation.
In front of the Five-Story Stone Pagoda at Manboksa Temple Site rests just three partial stories to a stone pagoda that formerly stood at Manboksa Temple. And to the rear of the five-story pagoda, and housed inside a protective wooden pavilion, is the final Korean Treasure to be explored on the temple site grounds. Housed inside the wooden pavilion is the Stone Standing Buddha at Manboksa Temple Site, which is Korean Treasure #43. This image dedicated to the Buddha stands two metres in height, and it’s made from granite. There is some dispute among historians as to when the statue was first erected at Manboksa Temple. This image of the Buddha has a bald head, and it’s topped with an usnisa, which is a protruding part of the head that symbolizes supreme wisdom. This Buddha image also has a chubby oval face and features like the eyes, nose, and mouth that are natural in appearance. The right hand is held upward with the palm facing outwards. And the left hand of the image hangs down. Unfortunately, both hands are missing. As for the mandorla that surrounds the entire statue of the Buddha, the halo relief is carved with lotus petals and stems around the head, while the background features fiery reliefs. Near the shoulders of the Buddha are two accompanying smaller images of Buddhas on either side. The folds of the Buddha’s clothes are a bit clunky and unrefined. And on the backside of the mandorla is a relief of yet another Buddha.
To the rear of the protective wooden pavilion and the foundation for the main hall are three additional foundations probably for a lecture hall and dorms.
How To Get There
From the Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal, you can take Bus #4-101 or Bus #4-102 to get to the Manboksa-ji Temple Site. You’ll need to get off at the “Wangjeong-gyo stop” and then walk to the temple site. From where the bus drops you off, you’ll need to walk 5 minutes, or 340 metres, to get to the Manboksa-ji Temple Site.
You can take a bus or you can simply take a taxi from the Namwon Intercity Bus Terminal. The taxi ride will last 5 minutes over 2.2 km.
Overall Rating: 6/10
Temple sites are always a bit tricky to rate because either you love them or you hate them. For me, rather obviously, I love them, so I rate them as highly as I do. In addition to the Manboksa-ji Temple Site being classified as a Historic Site, it’s also home to four Korean Treasures, which are all stunning in their own right. Sometimes you’ll go to a temple site, and there’s nothing but foundation stones remaining. This isn’t the case at the Manboksa-ji Temple Site. In addition to the four Korean Treasures, there are other features like the Manboksa-ji Seokinsang, the partial pagoda, and the seokdeung daeseok, as well. There’s definitely a lot to appreciate at the Manboksa-ji Temple Site.