Jeongchwiam Hermitage is located in eastern Sancheong, Gyeongsangnam-do in the foothills of Mt. Daeseongsan. Additionally, the hermitage is located within the northern boundaries of Jirisan National Park. The hermitage was first founded in 686 A.D. by Uisang-daesa (625-702 A.D.). According to a hermitage legend, during the 6th year of King Sinmun of Silla’s reign, which lasted from 681 to 692 A.D., Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise) rose from the East Sea and shone two streams of light onto the Korean Peninsula. One of these beams of light shone on Mt. Geumgangsan (present-day North Korea) and the other beam of light shone on Mt. Daeseongsan. According to this legend, Uisang-daesa eventually followed both beams of light. He created Wontongam Hermitage on Mt. Geumgangsan, where the light settled on this mountain; and Uisang-daesa also built Jeongchwiam Hermitage where the light came to rest on Mt. Daeseongam Hermitage.
Jeongchwiam Hermitage was rebuilt during the reign of King Gongmin of Goryeo (r. 1351-1374), but it was eventually destroyed during the reign of King Hyojong of Joseon (r. 1649-1659). The hermitage was reconstructed in 1987. Later, and in 1995, the Eungjin-jeon Hall and the Samseong-gak Hall were built. And the Wontong-jeon Hall was built in 1996.
In total, Jeongchwiam Hermitage is home to two provincial treasures. The first is the “Wooden Gwanseeum-bosal Seated Image in Jeongchwiam Hermitage,” which is Gyeongsangnam-do Cultural Material #314; and the second provincial treasure is the “Sanshin-taenghwa of Jeongchwiam Hermitage,” which is Gyeongsangnam-do Cultural Material #243.
When you first approach the hermitage grounds, you’ll first see the administrative office to your left, as well as the Wontong-jeon Hall. Next to the administrative office is the smaller main hall. The Wontong-jeon Hall’s exterior walls are adorned with simplistic Palsang-do (The Eight Scenes from the Buddha’s Life). As you enter the Wontong-jeon Hall, you’ll notice that the main altar has a solitary image dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal (The Bodhisattva of Compassion) on it. This is the “Wooden Gwanseeum-bosal Seated Image in Jeongchwiam Hermitage,” which rests upon a red silk pillow. The statue of the Bodhisattva wears a beautiful crown, and it’s made of wood. It’s believed that this statue dates back to the late 18th century. The 50 cm tall statue is backed by a beautiful red altar mural dedicated to Amita-bul (The Buddha of the Western Paradise). To the left of the main altar is a shrine dedicated to Jijang-bosal (The Bodhisattva of the Afterlife). This statue is equally small in stature. And on the far right wall is a semi-modern Shinjung Taenghwa (Guardian Mural).
To the right of the Wontong-jeon Hall are the monks’ dorms. Between the administrative office and the Wontong-jeon Hall, on the other hand, is a set of stairs that leads you up towards the upper courtyard at Jeongchwiam Hermitage. The first thing to greet you in this area is an outdoor shrine. There’s a beautiful stone statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, as well as a collection of Buddhist-inspired statuettes left behind by visitors to the hermitage. To the left of this outdoor shrine is the Eungjin-jeon Hall. Around the exterior walls to this shrine hall are paintings dedicated to the Nahan (The Historical Disciples of the Buddha). Stepping inside the Eungjin-jeon Hall, you’ll find an elegant image dedicated to Seokgamoni-bul (The Historical Buddha) on the main altar. This statue is joined on either side, eight on each side, of sixteen expressive and colourful Nahan statues. And the Nahan statues are then backed by two separate murals of the various disciples.
To the right of the Eungjin-jeon Hall and the outdoor shrine dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, you’ll find another set of side-winding stairs. Through an opening in the mountain, and next to a pair of beautiful red pines, is the Sanshin-gak Hall/Samseong-gak Hall. It’s a bit of a strange name for a shaman shrine hall, but it’s the two signboards that rest above the two entrances to the single shrine hall that gives it its name. If you enter the shaman shrine hall’s left door, you’ll be greeted by images dedicated to Chilseong (The Seven Stars) and Dokseong (The Lonely Saint). And if you decide to enter through the right door under the signboard that reads “Sanshin-gak Hall,” you’ll be welcomed by a slightly askew window that looks out onto a shrine dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). You can also approach this outdoor shrine dedicated to the Mountain Spirit to the rear of the shaman shrine hall. On top of the mountain rests a striking image dedicated to Sanshin. This is a reproduction of the “Sanshin-taenghwa of Jeongchwiam Hermitage” (the original appears to be housed inside the administrative office at the hermitage for protection). The original painting, which measures 150 cm by 150 cm, dates back to 1833. It depicts Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit) riding a tiger instead of more customarily sitting next to the feline. Two dongja (attendants) appear in the painting floating in clouds. One is playing an instrument, which is reminiscent of a Bicheon (Flying Heavenly Deity), while the other carries a bowl of peaches (a symbol of immortality).
It’s also worthy to note that you get some amazing views of the valley below from the heights of the Sanshin-gak Hall/Samseong-gak Hall. The view is definitely worth a few moments of your time.
How To Get There
The only way to get to the reclusive hermitage is by taxi. So from the Sancheong Intercity Bus Terminal, you’ll need to catch one. The taxi ride takes 20 minutes over 17 km. And it’ll cost you 20,000 won (one way). Just make sure that you hang onto your taxi because it’s a long way back to Sancheong.
Overall Rating: 7/10
There are a few highlights to this little known hermitage. They are the main altar statue dedicated to Gwanseeum-bosal, the beautiful views and surroundings; and of course, the historic altar mural dedicated to Sanshin (The Mountain Spirit). The replica of the shaman deity is beautiful, but perhaps you’ll be lucky enough to see the original, if you ask. The hermitage is especially beautiful on a foggy day.