Updated May. 27, 2014 08:44
Ssanggyesa is a Jogye Order temple in Mt. Cheomchal in Jindo, South Jeolla Province. It is the oldest temple in Jindo, built in 857 when King Moonseong was in rein in the Shilla Dynasty. The 1,000-year old temple has been receiving visits after sunset these days. The visitors are monks and volunteers who come for rest after serving the families of missing people from the ferry Sewol sinking.
Ssanggyesa has had a different life since April 16 when Sewol sank. At the entrance hangs a white placard reading "May victims of Sewol break free from the deep sea and rest in peace." At a stage set up at the corner of the main temple hangs a placard that replaced the tablet of victims. The temple stay program, normally joined by average 40-50 people monthly, has been suspended. There was not much that can be done at a small temple operated by just two people, a chief monk and a manager. All they could do is to make sure that five individual rooms and two group rooms for victim families and volunteer workers are vacant.
Initially, two to three families visited the temple every day. Just a 15-minute apart by car from the gym where the families of missing people were staying, the temple was a place for them to pull themselves together after having been worn out from waiting for their beloved ones to return. One Buddhist saint said Saturday, "The families of victims mostly come in daytime and leave after praying, while volunteers come at night." Currently, 20 to 30 volunteers come here daily to spend the night.
One man who had initially visited the temple every day recently stayed here for 10 days, praying for his missing wife to return. He and his wife were elementary school mates and were travelling for their 60th birthday anniversary when they encountered the tragic incident. Feeling guilty that he left his wife on the sinking ship, he could not sleep without the help of alcohol. When he visited the temple, he brought a makgeolli (Korean traditional rice wine) with him. He could sleep only after drinking the whole bottle. The principal of Danwon High School, who lost students and used to stay at the accident site every day, came to the temple except for days when he had to go to the school.
The number of missing people has dropped to 16 and families visiting the temple also declined. The temple`s manager said, "When people who were always here stop coming, I feel relieved since they must have found their family. I hope the remaining families also find their beloved ones and leave Jindo."