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Shinheung Temple plate returns home in 65 years

Posted March. 27, 2019 07:36,   

Updated March. 27, 2019 07:36


A former American solider has returned a Buddhist plate he took from Shinheung Temple in Sokcho, Gangwon Province in 1954 right after the Korean war.

Shinheung Temple on Mt. Seorak, the third parish headquarter of Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, announced Tuesday, “Ex-serviceman Richard Rockwell (92) returned the last piece of Jebanmun (a document that recorded daily rituals at temples) from Seattle on March 18.”

The former Marine lieutenant visited Shinheung Temple on a reconnaissance patrol in October 1954. He collected the plate at the devastated temple and took the plate to the U.S. a month later.

But Mr. Rockwell felt unease ever so often. He thought the plate would be an important cultural asset and tried to return it, but could not find a way to do so. In January last year, he delivered a message that he wanted to donate the plate to Sokcho Municipal Museum along with 279 slide pictures he took while he was stationed in Korea from 1953 to 1954.

The museum requested the Overseas Korean Cultural Heritage Foundation to assess the value of the plate, and the foundation dispatched its staff to Rockwell’s house to apprehend how the plate ended up in the U.S. and authenticated the piece. The foundation delivered Rockwell’s message to Shinheung Temple and sent chief monk Jisang of Neungin Temple to the U.S. Monk Jisang visited Rockwell’s house with Rep. Ahn Min-seok, the head of Culture, Sports and Tourism Committee, and presented an appreciation plaque for returning it without any conditions.

The returned plate is estimated to have been engraved in the mid and late 17th century. It is 48.2 centimeters wide and 18 centimeters long and is in excellent preservation. There used to be 88 Jebanmun plates (44 pieces) at Shinheung Temple, but most of them were destroyed during the Korean war. Currently, there are 14 pieces left.

Won-Mo Yu onemore@donga.com