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Jongmyo Shrine – where Seoul’s noble spirits live

Jongmyo Shrine – where Seoul’s noble spirits live

15th June 2013. We gained more impressions of Seoul as a city and enjoyed Jongmyo Shrine, where we visited the ghostly spirits of Korean nobles.

Korea has achieved major economic growth since the sixties which is mirrored by sparkling new skyscrapers and very modern urban design. In 1957 South Korea had a lower per capita GDP than Ghana, by 2008 it was superseding Ghana 17 times. It is now a fast growing developed country and one of the Asian Tigers.

A major effort nowadays is to introduce green areas into Seoul, like ‘Seun Greenway Park’ (close to Jongmyo Shrine), completed in 2009, symbolizing the coexistence of nature and people. Seoul’s Cheonggyecheon oasis is another excellent example of how dense shopping, business and residential areas can be linked. I really enjoy the green in this mega-city.

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Off, we go to get the spirit at Jongmyo Shrine! Location: 157 Jong-no, Jong-gu. Seoul. Tickets are very cheap, only 1,000 won per adult but we had bought a combination ticket for all the 4 palaces and the shrine for 10,000 won which made it even cheaper.

Jongmyo Shrine is a place of peace for the spirits of deceased royals and once a place of horrific sacrificial rites, involving animals.

Of all Confucian Asian states only Korea has preserved its royal shrine and continues to perform royal ancestral rituals (without the animal torture). The Korean monarchy, which began in 2300 BC had come to an end in 1910, marked by Japanese occupation.

Jongmyo was build in 1395, after King Taejo, the founder of the Joseon Dynasty, designated Hanyang (Seoul) as the capital. The site was destroyed by the Japanese invasion in 1592 (same tragic history at all palace sights) and rebuild in 1608.

Please do not walk this pathway. This is for the spirits!

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This is how the shrine looks during ceremonies for the deceased. Many pink dancers.

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So basically, a royal would die and then his spirit would move over to the spirit tablet. All those ancestral tablets are held at Jongmyo Shrine. According to Confucian belief, the spirit separates from the body upon death. The spirit goes to heaven while the body stays on Earth, which is why Koreans kept tombs and shrines separately.

On display were ritual utensils and edibles.

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It makes me sad to know that a lot of meat has been wasted for the purpose of ‘offerings’.

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The scent of burning incense was used to call a spirit of deceased royalty.

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The ritual paper paid respect to the deceased king or queen and the white roll is a gift of finest ramie cloth (made from China grass).

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Jade binders hold the achievements of King Taejo and have nice patterns of flowers and bamboo.

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The big thing at Jongmyo are spirit tablets, which hold the spirit of the deceased – this is the whole purpose of this magnificent shrine – however the spirit tablets were not on display.

Instead you can read about the specifics of the rites at the small library of Jongmyo.

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Notice the Korean style chairs. It is common to sit on the floor in restaurants, too, which can be a challenge to flexibility limits of western bodies.

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The shrine of King Gongmin of Goryeo at Jongmyo is described as a mystery, because only royal members of the Joeseon Dynasty were to be held here. However, the king’s art was on display.

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This is one building of the Jaegung complex, where the king and the crown prince prepared their purification before attending sacrificial rites.

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You will often see a big metal vessel with water, keeping evil fire setting spirits away – which were said to be scared off by their own reflection.

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Huh!

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The room of the crown prince.

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The crown prince dolled up in formal outfit.

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The king in his room. Proceedings of the rituals at the Shrine are depicted on folding screens. The dragon motives on the clothing emphasised the king’s authority.

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Folding screen with peony flowers. The peony was a symbol of wealth and honour used for special occasions.

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The king’s bathing facility was lacking bathing facilities.

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Jeonsacheong complex. The horrors and cruelty to animals in the name of ‘ritual sacrifice’ took place here.

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Cows, pigs and sheep were slaughtered for ‘offerings’. If people are so keen to offer lives, why not their own flesh and blood?

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Let’s have some pretty architecture.

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Jeongjeon complex is the main hall of Jongmyo Shrine. When a king or queen died, a three year mourning period was followed at the palace, after which the spirit tablet was enshrined. 49 spirit tablets are housed here with the oldest being Taejo, founder of Joseon. The last king to be enshrined was Sunjong, the 27th monarch.

Jeongjeon is the most impressive architectural part of the Shrine.

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There are three gates leading into the courtyard. The spirits entered through the south gate, ritual officiants entered though the east gate and dancers, musicians entered through the west.

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The sign in front of these locked gates, read Baehyanggongsinsinjubongando (I am not making names up). Enshrined were 83 tablets of meritorious servants to the king. However a king’s mother could not be enshrined if she wasn’t queen. So happened to King Yeongjo’s mother, who was a water fetching maid. Royalty doesn’t have to make sense.

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Yeongnyeongjeon (Korean names are a tongue twister) was build in 1421 under King Sejong as the previous place could no longer accommodate any more tablets.

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A ghostly sight!

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The palaces are a great place to escape the city bustle.

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Bring your own drink. No vending machines.

Coming up next is Bukchon, a fancy village in Seoul.

 

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