Buddhist relics found at Confucian academy

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Buddhist relics found at Confucian academy


A gilded bronze vajra (top left) and a bell (top right) used in Buddhist rituals and presumed to be from the 12th century were found in a Confucian academy site in Dobong District, northern Seoul, the Cultural Heritage Administration said yesterday. A total of 77 artifacts were found. [NEWS1],[NEWSIS]

A trove of Buddhist artifacts was unearthed on the site of a Confucian academy in Korea, the first discovery of its kind in the country.

The site in Dobong District, northern Seoul, was originally the site of a Buddhist temple called Yeongguk Temple.

The temple, whose construction date is uncertain, existed between Korea’s Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392) and the early part of the subsequent Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910). Records say in 1573 a seowon - the Confucian institution that functioned as both an academy and a shrine - was built on the site, which was called Dobong Seowon.

Scholars say, therefore, the finding reflects one of Joseon’s governing policies: “Repress Buddhism and promote Confucianism.” Whereas during Goryeo, Buddhism was a state religion and Buddhist culture and art flourished, Joseon chose Confucianism as its state religion, leading to the decline of Buddhist culture and art.

The 77 artifacts found by researchers of the Seoul Institute of Cultural Heritage included a gilded bronze vajra, a type of club with ribbed spherical heads, and an ornate bell, thought to be the most interesting finds of the 77.

Others include a bronze jar with a lid, incense burners of various shapes, a bowl with legs, containers and spoons.

The bell contained both the “four devas image” and the “five wisdom kings,” the Cultural Heritage Administration said in a press conference yesterday, “which is the first such find in Korea.”

While the artifacts, presumed to be from the 12th century, are all worthy to be considered state treasures in terms of their aesthetic quality, rarity and their state of preservation, the bell is of particular value as its patterns and decorations display extreme detail and craftsmanship. Also, experts say that while more research has to be done, the artifacts could be from as early as the eighth century.

The artifacts were found in a pot buried underground. Joo Kyeong-mi, an expert in metal crafts, said since the pot was wrapped in a straw mat it appears to have been buried intentionally. Experts believe monks buried the pot when they were building the Buddhist temple.

Archaeologists also found that the foundation stones of the Buddhist temple were intact and were used to build the Confucian seowon.

“This marks the first time that a massive amount of Goryeo-era Buddhist relics were found on the site of a Joseon Confucian seowon,” a CHA official said.

The finding came as researchers at the Seoul Institute of Cultural Heritage were conducting an archaeological field survey on Dobong Seowon in 2012. Preservation of the artifacts, the CHA explained, caused the delay in disclosing the discovery.

Dobong Seowon, recognized by Seoul City as Monument No. 28, was built in 1573 and torn down in 1871 as the Joseon government tore down seowon that were corrupt and milking the local people. It was restored in 1903 and again in 1970. The 2012 archaeological field survey took place as the district government planned a refurbishment of the area.

The artifacts were put on display at Seoul’s National Palace Museum on Thursday.

BY KIM HYUNG-EUN [hkim@joongang.co.kr]

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