Buddhist Relics Returned to South Korea After 85 Years in Boston Museum

The Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism has successfully reclaimed 14th-century Buddhist relics from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, marking a significant milestone in South Korea's efforts to repatriate its cultural heritage. However, the museum has retained a silver-gilt reliquary, sparking ongoing repatriation efforts.

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Olalekan Adigun
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Buddhist Relics Returned to South Korea After 85 Years in Boston Museum

Buddhist Relics Returned to South Korea After 85 Years in Boston Museum

A delegation from the Jogye Order, the largest sect of Korean Buddhism, has successfully reclaimed 14th-century Buddhist relics from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston, United States. The relics, known as 'sarira,' were believed to have been illegally removed from Korea during the Japanese colonial period and have been housed in the museum for the past 85 years.

The return of the relics was made possible under a landmark agreement reached in February 2024, in which the museum agreed to donate the remains of Buddhist monks from the 14th-century Goryeo Dynasty to the Jogye Order. The delegation retrieved the remains of the Buddha himself, as well as two revered Korean monks, Jigong and Naong, along with several fragments of relics related to two past Buddhas.

The relics will be transferred to the site of Heoam Temple in Yangju, Gyeonggi Province, where they are believed to have been originally kept. The repatriation came after 15 years of efforts by the Seoul government and the Buddhist circle to reclaim both the sarira and the silver-gilt Lamaistic pagoda-shaped reliquary, which is considered a masterpiece of the Buddhist art of the Goryeo era.

However, the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston has not agreed to return the reliquary, stating that it was legitimately purchased from a dealer in 1939 and the exact origin is unknown. The museum's decision to retain the reliquary has been a point of contention in the ongoing repatriation efforts.

The return of the Buddhist relics to South Korea marks a significant milestone in the country's efforts to reclaim its cultural heritage from foreign institutions. The Jogye Order and the South Korean government have expressed their appreciation for the museum's cooperation in the repatriation process, while also emphasizing the importance of continued efforts to recover other cultural artifacts that were removed from the country during the colonial period.

The repatriated relics will be carefully preserved and displayed at Heoam Temple, allowing the public to appreciate and pay respects to these sacred objects. The temple is expected to become a major pilgrimage site for Buddhists in South Korea and around the world, as it will house the remains of the Buddha and two highly revered Korean monks.

The successful repatriation of the Buddhist relics from the Museum of Fine Arts in Boston is a legacy of the persistent efforts of the South Korean government and the Buddhist community to reclaim their cultural heritage. It also highlights the ongoing challenges in securing the return of other artifacts that remain in foreign collections, such as the silver-gilt reliquary that is still housed in the Boston museum.

Key Takeaways

  • Korean Buddhist sect reclaimed 14th-century relics from Boston museum
  • Relics include remains of Buddha, 2 Korean monks, and 2 past Buddhas
  • Relics to be transferred to Heoam Temple, their original site
  • Museum refused to return silver-gilt reliquary, citing unknown origin
  • Repatriation marks milestone in Korea's efforts to reclaim cultural heritage