Posted by: rbbadger | August 25, 2008

Cheondogyo Central Temple

In central Seoul, there is the headquarters for one of Korea’s new religions.  Korea has produced quite a few new religions ranging all the way from Won Buddhism, sort of a reformation Buddhism (no Buddha statues, for instance) to the infamous Tongilgyo (Unification Church) found by Sung-myung Moon.  Mama and Daddy might vaguely remember the Moonies.

Cheondogyo was founded in the 19th century by Choi Je-u.  Choi claimed to have had an encounter with Hanulnim (Cheondogyo’s word for God) in which he was given a book and a sacred incantation.  Choi was alarmed at the presence of the Western missionaries and especially Catholicism, a teaching he termed seo hak (西學) or Western Learning.  His response was the creation of Donghak (東學) which later became known as Cheondogyo (天道敎), or the Religion of the Heavenly Way.

This religion is important to Korean history, not only for the peasant rebellions in the late 19th century, but also for its contribution to Korean independence.  Some of the leaders and followers of Cheondogyo were heavily involved in the independence movement.  It seems strange, then, that their central temple is such a Western looking building.  It was designed by a Japanese architect.  While photos of the interior that I’ve soon show a pretty simple interior, the exterior is really quite impressive.  It is one of the most impressive early 20th century buildings in Seoul and has been designated as a national historic monument.

Cheondogyo Central Temple

Cheondogyo Central Temple

Right next door is the headquarters of Cheondogyo.  This really isn’t one of the more impressive buildings I’ve seen, but pretty much representative of a lot of Seoul’s architecture.

Cheondogyo Headquarters

Cheondogyo Headquarters


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