The Korea Herald


[Exclusive] April 16 event in Boston to mark Goryeo relics’ repatriation

By Choi Si-young

Published : March 25, 2024 - 16:44

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A Lamaistic reliquary from the 14th century Goryeo Kingdom. (Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism) A Lamaistic reliquary from the 14th century Goryeo Kingdom. (Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism)

A repatriation ceremony will take place on April 16 at the Museum of Fine Arts, Boston after which two Korean Buddhist monks will bring back to Korea long-sought 14th-century Buddhist religious relics.

The arrangement is the latest development following an agreement last month between the museum and the Korean representatives from the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, once the owner of the relics, and the Cultural Heritage Administration, the government agency handling the matter.

“The ceremony transferring the sarira has been confirmed for April 16, at noon,” an MFA Boston official told The Korea Herald, referring to the bead-shaped objects found among the cremated remains of Buddhist spiritual masters.

Ven. Hyegong, head of the Korean delegation, will be accompanied by Ven. Hosan, chief monk leading Bongeunsa, the temple overseeing the temple site believed to be the home of the sarira.

A Jogye Order official confirmed the details of the arrangement, saying “We will bring back the sarira in a reliquary being made especially for the occasion.” The containers will look similar to those currently held at the Boston museum, the official added, noting that the time required to build the replicas was one reason for the delay in the repatriation process, originally set for the first week of April.

In February, the museum agreed to “donate” the sarira due to their religious significance but held back on doing the same for the reliquary containing it. The CHA is currently pushing to have the reliquary returned on loan. Whether the CHA chief will also attend the April event is still under discussion.

The Jogye Order official who confirmed the date of the sarira’s return added that Hoeamsa, a temple in Gyeonggi Province believed to be the original home of the sarira, will house the relics once they are returned. Public viewings may take place after Buddha’s Birthday holiday, which falls on May 15 this year.

Talks over the repatriation of the Buddhist relics -- both the sarira and reliquary -- go back to 2009. Progress had since been elusive because Korea wanted the four pieces of sarira as well as the five small containers holding the sarira and the large container that held them all as a complete set, while the museum was only prepared to give up the sarira due to religious considerations. There is no record indicating theft, looting or coercive transfer of the sarira container, which was acquired from a dealer, according to the museum.

No clear timeline has been offered by either the museum or the CHA over when the reliquary loan, if agreed, would start or the duration of the loan.