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Temple History and Myth
Wibongsa Temple is located on the south-eastern slopes of Mt. Wibongsan (557.8 m) in Wanju, Jeollabuk-do. There are a couple theories as to when, and by whom, the temple was first established. One theory states that Wibongsa Temple was first constructed in 604 A.D. by the monk Seoam-daesa during the reign of King Mu of Baekje (r. 600-641 A.D.). According to another source, Wibongsa Temple was created at the end of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) by a man named Choi Yong-gak. According to this source, Choi Yong-gak was riding a horse one day, when he looked south. The land to the south looked like three phoenixes were wrapped around it.
Later, near the end of the Goryeo Dynasty, the famed monk Naong-hwasang (1320-1376) stayed at Wibongsa temple to rebuild and enlarge the temple grounds in 1358. Then in 1466, Wibongsa Temple was repaired by the monk Seokjam-daesa. In 1868, Wibongsa Temple was greatly expanded by the monk Poryeon-seonsa.
More recently, Wibongsa Temple has undergone extensive repair and rebuilding. In 1990, the Samseong-gak Hall was repaired. And in 1991, the Nahan-jeon Hall and the Iljumun Gate were built. Then in 1994, the Geukrak-jeon Hall, and the Amita-bul statue housed inside it, were constructed. Finally, in 2000, the Beomjong-gak (Bell Pavilion) was built, as well.
Wibongsa Temple is home to one Korean Treasure. The Bogwangmyeong-jeon Hall is Korean Treasure #608.
You first approach the temple grounds through the elevated Iljumun Gate. This top-heavy entry gate is the first among three at Wibongsa Temple. The Iljumun Gate at Wibongsa Temple is a beautiful example of Korean Buddhist entry gate architecture. The next gate you’ll pass through, which is just a few metres away, is the Cheonwangmun Gate. Housed inside this second entry gate are four somewhat stunned-looking statues of the Four Heavenly Kings. Next up, and just another few metres away, is the third temple entry gate at Wibongsa Temple: the Boje-ru Pavilion. Passing under the first floor of this rather long pavilion, you’ll gain admittance to the main temple courtyard at Wibongsa Temple.
To your immediate right, as you enter the main temple courtyard, is the rather large Beomjong-gak (Bell Pavilion). Also in this part of the temple grounds are the nuns dorms. And situated in the centre of the temple grounds is a large, mature twisted red pine.
Behind the mature red pine is the temple’s main hall, the Bogwangmyeong-jeon Hall, which is Korean Treasure #608. The Bogwangmyeong-jeon Hall houses a triad of statues on the main altar. The central image is Yaksayeorae-bul (The Medicine Buddha, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise). Bogwangmyeong-jeon Hall is believed to have first been constructed during the mid-Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910) around the 17th century. Behind the main altar is a large all-white image of Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion). There are several older paintings spread throughout the interior of various Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deities) playing musical instruments. And above the entry to the main hall hangs a large wooden nameplate that dates back to 1828.
To the right of the Bogwangmyeong-jeon Hall is the Nahan-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to this shrine hall are adorned with images of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). And housed inside the Nahan-jeon Hall, and resting on the main altar, is a statue dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). This central image is then joined on either side by sixteen large wooden statues of the Nahan. And to the right of the Nahan-jeon Hall is the rather large Geukrak-jeon Hall.
To the left of the Bogwangmyeong-jeon Hall is the Yosa-jeon Hall and the Gwaneum-jeon Hall. It’s kinda a two for one deal with this I-shaped building. There are two lecture halls book-ending the central hall which is the Gwaneum-jeon Hall.
And to the left rear of the temple grounds is the Samseong-gak Hall at Wibongsa Temple. The colourful interior is complimented by the three shaman murals that hang inside this shrine hall. Of these three murals, look at the golden eyes of the tiger in the Sanshin (Mountain Spirit) mural, the age of the Chilseong (Seven Stars) mural, and the thought bubble-like space to the left of Dokseong’s (The Lonely Saint) head with a pair of birds flying around in this space. And still in the upper courtyard to the rear of the Bogwangmyeong-jeon Hall 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 go 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 take Bus #814 or Bus #838 from Jeonju that let’s you off near the neighbouring Songgwangsa Temple. From this 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 peak of Mt. Wibongsan, Wibongsa Temple’s main highlight is the Bogwangmyeong-jeon Hall. With its beautiful main altar statues, the murals that decorate its interior, as well as the large all-white incarnation of Gwanseeum-bosal that adorns the reverse side of the main altar wall, it’s no wonder the Bogwangmyeong-jeon Hall is the main highlight to Wibongsa Temple. Additionally, the three entry gates and the shaman murals housed inside the Samseong-gak Hall are something to keep an eye out for while at this temple.