Golgulsa Temple


To reach Golgulsa one must drive about 1.1 Kilo upstream from the main road at Andong Village. A foot trail must be taken into the leftfoothills. After a two minute walk a small reservoir is reached. At a junction behind the lake the left trail is taken. The walking time is about 30 minutes.

Golgulsa (Bone Cave Hermitage) is located among a cluster of pale white cliffs which gives the impression of bleached bones. The cliff rock is soft and flaky with numerous holes pock-marking the area. The little hermitage is small with only one priest who is a third generation caretaker.

Beyond the hermitage the impressive relief Buddha image of the Historic Buddha looms above. It is considered one of the finest Silla carvings but unfortunately because of the composition of the cliff much of the image has already fallen away. The face is amazingly clear and well preserved, possibly because over the centuries it has been virtually impossible to climb the cliff to mutilate it.

Flame and cloud designs soar behind the image while lotus petals also radiate from behind the head. There is no historical record concerning Golgulsa. A legend tells that the unknown sculptor fell to his death before its completion. The right hand is pointed out as being still incomplete.

Some scholars wonder if this was not the cave referred to tin the Samkukyusa (Legends of the Three Kingdoms) relating to the death of priest Wonhyo. It is mentioned that when Wonhyo died his bones were crushed and pulverized into a life-size image by his son Seolchong. He went to live in a cottage near a cave where his father once lived.

As there are not many natural caves around Kyongju and since Kirimsa Temple was frequently visited by Wonhyo, these cave formations of Kulkolsa are strongly suspected as being Wonhyo's residence in his final days and associated with his death. However, scholars are quick to point out that this is purely speculation.

Golgulsa is remote and difficult to find. The remains of a former wooden pagoda indicate the antiquity of the temple dating to the pre-unification of Silla. To spend a day within the temple vicinity and Golgulsa will be a rewarding experience. The beauty of the countryside during each season provides for the adventurous tourist rare glimpses into the exquisite grandeur of the Korean landscape.