Ten-story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple Site


Ten-story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple Site  

A stupa is a mound-like structure containing Buddhist relics. As Buddhism spread to other countries, the stupa evolved into the pagoda. Pagodas were made from different materials, including brick, stone, and wood. Chinese pagodas were built mostly of brick, while Japanese pagodas were mostly built of wood. Korean pagodas were mostly built of stone. Korean pagodas began to be built in earnest from the 7th century, and showed distinct features according to regional characteristics and the trend of the times.


The Ten-Story Pagoda of Gyeongcheonsa Temple is the first Korean marble pagoda. It has also been called “Yakhwangtap pagoda,” because of its miraculous ability to cure disease. This pagoda is different in shape from earlier pagodas. The foundation supporting the pagoda is three-tiered, and its shape seen from the top looks like the Chinese character, . The first three stories of the pagoda follow the shape of the foundation, while the remaining stories have the shape of squares.


The foundation and stories are filled with splendid carvings depicting subjects such as Buddhas, Bodhisattvas, and flowers. Each remaining story has railings, a hip-and-gabled roof, eaves, and carvings made to suggest that each roof is tiled like a wooden structure. An inscription on the first story of the pagoda states that it was erected in the fourth year of the reign of King Chungmok, which was 1348. 


The pagoda's shape was distinctive even in the Goryeo era, when new styles of pagodas were being erected. In addition, the pagoda is made from marble. The preferred material of Korean sculptors was generally granite. The pagoda is attractive due to its balanced structure and detailed carvings, and is valuable because it preserves the structure of Goryeo-era wooden buildings. In this sense, it is a good example of the Korean architectural style of the day. This architectural style had an influence on the Ten-Story Pagoda of Wongaksa Temple (No.2 National Treasure of Korea) erected in the Joseon era.


This pagoda was first erected at Gaepung-gun, Gyeonggi Province. The ordeal of this pagoda began during the period of the Joseon Dynasty, when many Buddhist statues were damaged due to superstitious attacks and government policies that restricted Buddhist practices. The exact date when Gyeongcheonsa was closed is unknown. Much later, during the Japanese invasion of Joseon in March 1907, the temple was dismantled by Tanaka Misuaki, a Japanese minister, and was illegally shipped to Japan. It was to be the start of the pagoda's century-long wandering. British journalist Ernest Bethel (1872-1909) and missionary Homer Hulbert (1863-1949) wrote news articles about the temple being illegally send to Japan and published them in newspapers such as The Korea Daily News and The Japan Mail. From these stories, Japan received much criticism from many sectors, which soon compelled the Japanese to return the temple to Korea 11 years later in November 1918. However, because it was severely damaged and needed to be restored, the temple was subsequently stored at the gallery in Gyeongbokgung Palace for 40 years. In 1960, it was restored by the National Museum of Korea, but as the corrosion of the restored parts by cement became serious due to the effects of acid rain and weathering, it was dismantled by the National Research Institute of Cultural Heritages in 1995 and kept for a ten-year restoration process.


Today, the pagoda stands in the Path to History at the National Museum of Korea, which was relocated to Yongsan in 2005.



Ten-story Pagoda from Gyeongcheonsa Temple Site

Location: Path to History, 1st Floor

Period/Date: Goryeo, 1348

Accession no. Bongwan 6753

National Treasure no. 86  


*This article is extracted from the NMK Magazine Vol.00 & “20 masterpieces of the NMK.”


Zoom In/Out


137 Seobinggo-ro, Yongsan-gu, Seoul, 04383, Republic of Korea Tel : +82-2-2077-9000