The Korea Herald

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Stolen Buddhist statues, paintings to return home

By Kim Hae-yeon

Published : May 23, 2023 - 17:44

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The Ven. Jinwoo (right), president of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, and Choi Eung-chon (second from right), the head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, looks at one of the returned statues at the Korean Buddhism History and Culture Memorial Hall in central Seoul, Tuesday. (CHA) The Ven. Jinwoo (right), president of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, and Choi Eung-chon (second from right), the head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, looks at one of the returned statues at the Korean Buddhism History and Culture Memorial Hall in central Seoul, Tuesday. (CHA)

Thirty-two Buddhist relics that were once stolen from temples across the country will finally return to their rightful homes, after some of which had been gone for more than three decades.

The 21 Buddhist statues and 11 Buddhist paintings were put on display at the Korean Buddhism History and Culture Memorial Hall in Jongno, central Seoul, Tuesday, and a ceremony was held to celebrate their homecoming.

The relics, which were taken from 14 different temples between 1988 and 2004, will go to their respective homes after Tuesday.

"The 32 cultural heritages each have their historic, academic and artistic value," Choi Eung-chon, the head of the Cultural Heritage Administration, said at the ceremony.

"We sincerely hope they can now find their way back to the temples and and be peacefully enshrined once again."

The Ven. Jinwoo, the president of the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism, extended his gratitude for the collaborative endeavors that led to the retrieval and return of the artifacts, just in time for Buddha's Birthday, which falls on Saturday this year.

The missing artifacts first came to light when a man submitted two of the paintings to an art auction in January 2020.

Subsequent investigation led to the discovery of the remaining 30 pieces, which were found in the same man's residence. Some of the statues found exhibited cracks and other damage, while several paintings showed signs of being repainted over. Last year, the man was sentenced to one year in prison for violating the Cultural Heritage Protection Act.

The CHA's cultural heritage committee verified each seized item and confirmed their connection to the 14 temples they originated from. The items had been stored temporarily in the National Museum of Korea's repository during the verification process and before they could be returned.

In 2014, the CHA signed an agreement with the Jogye Order of Korean Buddhism and the National Police Agency, to proactively prevent the theft of Buddhist cultural heritage and facilitate their recovery when stolen.