Thursday, January 21, 2010

Gutenberg Bible or Buddhist Meditations?

Out of great love, many people spend a whole life time, without any recognition in a work few will ever hear about. Dr. Park Byeong Seon (Lugalda) was such a person until she discovered the oldest extant book, made with movable metal type, in the French National Library.The Catholic Apostolic Lay Council has just recently presented Dr. Park with a plague and monetary award in recognition of her many years working on Korean antiquities in France.

Before she left for France for further study, one of her professors asked her to keep her eyes open for books taken from Kangwha during the French occupation of the island in 1866. In a previous blog we mentioned the sack of Kangwha by the French naval fleet in retaliation for the killing of 7 French missioners and the burning of the royal achieves on the island. One of the books taken was the first printed book with movable type: a very precious part of Korean history. A book that was classified with other Chinese books until Prof. Park's discovery in 1975.

The book is referred to as Jikji printed by a Buddhist monk in 1377. It is an anthology of the teachings of Buddhism for meditation. There were two volumes, one in the French library is the only one found. Prof. Park proved that it was printed 78 years earlier than Gutenberg's Bible printed in 1455. Besides this one volume she discovered the 298 volumes dealing with the rituals and protocols of the Royal Court.

Prof. Park is now battling terminal cancer. She received no help from the Korean government during over 50 years of work in France; it was her work of love for the country and doesn't want any sympathy. She is having difficulty paying her hospital bills and the country is beginning to pitch in to help her during these difficult days. She would like to have one more year in France to finish what she has started but she knows it is in the hands of God.

It is a fact of life that we know a great deal of history written by those with power and financial backing. To the victors belong the spoils and one of the spoils is to tell the rest of the world what they think happened. The Gutenberg Bible is considered in the West to be the first movable metallic type printed book but the Koreans have a Buddhist work of meditation that precedes that by many years.

The attempts to get the books back can be attributed to Prof. Park's persistence. International support is now shown to countries whose cultural treasures have been pillaged. The Korean government will also become involved with the many other citizen groups working for the return of these priceless items. It would be a fitting end to Prof. Park's scholarly life to have this one year in France and see the return of these books to the country in which they belong.

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