Jeokcheonsa Temple – 적천사 (Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do)

Jeokcheonsa Temple in Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do.

Temple History

Jeokcheonsa Temple is located to the north of Mt. Osan (514.6 m) in southern Cheongdo, Gyeongsangbuk-do. Jeokcheonsa Temple was originally a cave temple first founded by Wonhyo-daesa (617-686 A.D.) in 664 A.D. The temple was later rebuilt in 828 A.D. by the monk Simji, who was the third son of King Heungdeok of Silla (826-836 A.D.). In 1175, the monk Jinul (1158-1210) rebuilt Jeokcheonsa Temple. Additionally, at the end of Unified Silla (668-935 A.D.) and the start of the Goryeo Dynasty (918-1392), some five hermitages would be built on the Jeokcheonsa Temple grounds, as well. During the Imjin War (1592-98), the temple would be destroyed by the invading Japanese in 1594. The temple would be rebuilt, yet again, in 1664 and repaired in 1694 led by the monk Taeheo.

At the end of the Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), the temple was used by the Righteous Army. As a result, some of the buildings and the Yosache (monks’ dorms) were destroyed by fire. In 1946, Jeokcheonsa Temple was used to help celebrate the liberation of the Korean Peninsula. The monks at Jeokcheonsa Temple also prayed for the ability of the nation to overcome the difficulties ahead in unifying the country, once again. In 1981, and while repairing the Cheonwangmun Gate, relics such as sari (crystalized remains), sutras, and 23 pieces of cloth, were discovered inside the wooden statues. Additionally, the date of the creation of the Four Heavenly Kings was discovered, as well. These stunning wooden statues were discovered to date back to 1690. And in 1991, the Myeongbu-jeon Hall was built on the temple grounds.

In total, Jeokcheonsa Temple is home to one Korean Treasure. It’s the “Hanging Painting and Flagpole Supports of Jeokcheonsa Temple,” which is Korean Treasure #1432. The temple is also home to a Natural Monument, which is the 800 year old “Ginkgo Tree of Jeokcheonsa Temple.” Lastly, the temple is home to two Gyeongsangbuk-do Tangible Cultural Properties. They are the aforementioned “Wooden Four Heavenly Kings Seated on Stools,” which is Gyeongsangbuk-do Tangible Cultural Property #153; as well as the Daeung-jeon Hall, which is Gyeongsangbuk-do Tangible Cultural Property #321.

Temple Layout

You first approach the very rural Jeokcheonsa Temple up a long, winding road. In fact, you follow this road for so long that you might think that there isn’t an end to this rural road. When you finally do come to the end of the road, you’ll arrive at the temple parking lot at Jeokcheonsa Temple.

To the left of the gravel parking lot, you’ll find the natural wood exterior of the Cheonwangmun Gate. As you enter the entry gate, you’ll notice four images of the Four Heavenly Kings. They are made from three pieces of wood, and they range in size from 3.4 to 3.8 metres in height. Though they are quite large, they are also well-balanced. They all have stunning red crowns, and they all wear armour. According to written material found on the statues, they are believed to date back to 1690. Rather surprisingly, they are only a Gyeongsangbuk-do Tangible Cultural Property #153 and not a Korean Treasure. And if you look towards the feet of these statues, you’ll notice that they are trampling some pretty scary images of demons underfoot.

Now having passed through the Cheonwangmun Gate, you’ll be greeted on the other side by the rather large Boje-ru Pavilion. The first floor of this structure acts as an entryway into the main temple grounds, while the second story is used for larger dharma talks. You’ll need to slouch down a bit so that you don’t bump your head, while passing through this pavilion.

Climbing the set of stairs that leads up to the temple’s main courtyard, you’ll be greeted by a collection of shrine halls and buildings. To your immediate left is the temple’s understated Jong-ru Pavilion. Housed inside this open-concept bell pavilion are the four traditional Buddhist percussion instruments. They include a beautifully polished bronze bell that’s joined by an equally exquisite blue mokeo (wooden fish drum) and an unpan (cloud plate drum), as well as a freshly painted beopgo (dharma drum). Neighbouring the Jong-ru Pavilion is a rather long Myeongbu-jeon Hall. The exterior walls are adorned in understated dancheong colours. Stepping inside the Myeongbu-jeon Hall, you’ll find a statue of Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife) on the main altar joined by statues of the Siwang (The Ten Kings of the Underworld). And to your immediate right, on the other hand, are a row of structures that include the Yosache (monks’ dorms), the temple’s kitchen, and the administrative office.

Slightly to the right, and straight ahead, is the Daeung-jeon Hall at Jeokcheonsa Temple. The exterior walls of the main hall are adorned with some images of a white Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion), the Bodhidharma, as well as a collection of the Shimu-do (Ox-Herding Murals). Stepping inside the Daeung-jeon Hall, you’ll find a triad of statues centred by Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha). And flanking this image on either side are statues dedicated to Yaksayeorae-bul (The Buddha of Medicine, and the Buddha of the Eastern Paradise), as well as Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). It should be noted, however, that this main hall has been locked on me before, so it might not be open when you visit. This Daeung-jeon Hall was built in the late Joseon Dynasty (1392-1910), and it’s Gyeongsangbuk-do Tangible Cultural Property #321.

To the left and right rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall are two smaller sized shrine halls. The shrine hall to the left rear is the Yeongsan-jeon Hall. The exterior walls to the Yeongsan-jeon Hall are adorned in some beautiful landscape paintings. Housed inside this shrine hall are sixteen all-white stone images of the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha), who are joined by a triad of white statues on the main altar, as well. Seated in the centre of this triad is Seokgamoni-bul, who is joined by golden, crowned images of Yeondeung-bul (The Past Buddha) and Mireuk-bul (The Future Buddha).

And to the right rear of the Daeung-jeon Hall, and joined by some more monks’ dorms, is the Samseong-gak Hall. The exterior walls to this shaman shrine hall are adorned in floral and landscape paintings. Stepping inside the Samseong-gak Hall, you’ll find a set of paintings dedicated to the three most popular shaman deities in Korea. As you first enter, you’ll be greeted by a rather strange older image of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). This rather peculiar image is fronted by a statue of the shaman deity. Just to the right of Sanshin hangs an equally older painting dedicated to Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And rather atypically, the oldest-looking painting of the set of three, Chilseong (The Seven Stars), hangs on the far right wall. I say atypically because the mural of Chilseong, who represents the heavens, usually hangs in the centre of the set of three.

How To Get There

Unfortunately, there’s no public transportation that goes directly to Jeokcheonsa Temple from the city of Cheongdo; instead, you’ll need to take a taxi from the Cheongdo Intercity Bus Terminal to get out to the temple. The ride should take you about 15 minutes, and it’ll set you back about 10,000 won (one way).

Overall Rating: 6/10

For such a virtually unknown temple, Jeokcheonsa Temple has a lot for visitors to see starting with the Cheonwangmun Gate and the historic Four Heavenly King statues housed inside it. Additionally, you can enjoy the exterior wall paintings of the Daeung-jeon Hall, as well as the all-white statues inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall and the atypical paintings inside the Samseong-gak Hall. There seems to be a little bit of something for everyone at Jeokcheonsa Temple; the only difficulty seems to be getting there.

The Cheonwangmun Gate.
One of the Four Heavenly Kings inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.
One of the demons being trampled underfoot inside the Cheonwangmun Gate.
The Boje-ru Pavilion.
The Jong-ru Pavilion.
The Daeung-jeon Hall at Jeokcheonsa Temple.
A painting of the Bodhidharma that adorns the exterior of the Daeung-jeon Hall.
Joined by a collection of Shimu-do (Ox-Herding Murals).
The Myeongbu-jeon Hall.
A look inside the Yeongsan-jeon Hall.
The Samseong-gak Hall.
An older painting dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) inside the shaman shrine hall.
Joined by these images of Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit).
And this of Dokseong (The Lonely Saint).