Wat Ratchabophit: the temple of the top 3 Thai monks

Wat Ratchabophit
Door guardians at Wat Ratchabophit. By Photo Dharma from Sadao, Thailand – 011 Door Guardians, CC BY 2.0, Link

Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram Ratcha Wora Maha Wihan ( วัดราชบพิธสถิตมหาสีมารามราชวรวิหาร), abbreviated as Wat Ratchabophit ( วัดราชบพิธ), is a first-class royal temple situated at Atsadang Road ( ถนนอัษฎางค์).

Wat Ratchabophit is located adjacent to Khlong Khu Mueang Doem ( คลองคูเมืองเดิม), the canal closest to the Grand Palace. It was excavated during the Thon Buri Period, before Bangkok was founded as the capital of the Siam Kingdom, and establishes the boundary of the inner Rattanakosin Island, not far from Wat Pho and the Grand Palace.

Wat Ratchabophit
Ubosot at Wat Ratchabophit. By Photo Dharma from Sadao, Thailand / CC BY

The temple was built during the reign of King Chulalongkorn ( จุฬาลงกรณ์) , who reigned under the name of King Rama V ( พระรามที่ 5) and this temple was built to follow an old Thai Royal tradition that every king should build a royal temple after the coronation. In fact, the name Wat Ratchabophit Sathit Maha Simaram means “temple that the king built”.

The abbot of the temple is Somdet Phra Ariyavongsagatanana, the present Supreme Patriarch of Thailand. In the past, in 1921 and 1973, two of its former abbots also held the same title Supreme Patriarch or Sangharaja ( สังฆราช), which is the head of the order of Buddhist monks in Thailand. This is the reason why this temple is sometimes referred to as the historical home of the top 3 Thai monks.

Wat Ratchabophit
Golden chedi containing relics of Lord Buddha at Wat Ratchabophit. By กสิณธร ราชโอรส / CC BY-SA

The architecture of the temple is a mixture of Thai and Western architecture. The 43 meters high chedi, modeled after the famous Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom province, containing relics of Lord Buddha, is circled by open arcades, into which are set a Viharn and an Ubosot which design recalls an Italian Gothic chapel.

The doors and windows of the temple’s Ubosot are adorned with mother-of-pearl inlays, while the doors and windows of the Viharn are made of wood rather than mother-of-pearl inlays. Both represent various decorations of royal insignia.

Wat Ratchabophit
Mother of pearl badge decorations at Ubosot of Wat Ratchabophit. By Photo Dharma from Sadao, Thailand / CC BY

The principal Buddha image in the Ubosot is Buddha Ankhiros, which was molded first by King Rama IV who wished to establish it at Phra Pathom Chedi in Nakhon Pathom province. After his death, King Rama V finished the Buddha image and established it as the principal Buddha image in the Ubosot of the temple.

Wat Ratchabophit
The image of Buddha Ankhiros in the Ubosot. By กสิณธร ราชโอรส / CC BY-SA

The Buddha image in the meditation posture is raised on a base in which the ashes of King Rama VII are kept, because of this, the temple is dedicated to him.

The royal cemetery is located on the west side of the temple and includes several monuments devoted to members of the Royal Family, particularly those in the immediate family of King Rama V. The ashes of members of the House of Mahidol, of whom the current royal family of Thailand is descendant are also in the royal cemetery.

Wat Ratchabophit
Mausoleum of Savang Vadhana at Wat Ratchabophit. By ScorpianPK / CC BY-SA

The Rangsi Vadhana Memorial, contains the ashes of Prince Mahidol Adulyadej, Princess Srinagarindra, and Princess Galyani Vadhana, father, mother, and sister respectively of King Rama VIII and King Rama IX.

Four outstanding monuments are dedicated to King Rama V’s four main wives: Queen Sunandha Kumariratana, Queen Savang Vadhana, Queen Saovabha Phongsri, and Queen Sukhumala Marasri.

There is also a Christian church on the cemetery grounds.

Wat Ratchabophit
Pope Francis during his visit to Wat Ratchabophit. By PEAK99 / CC BY

Pope Francis ( Papa Francisco), the head of the Catholic Church and sovereign of the Vatican City State, called at the royal temple on his recent papal visit to Thailand and meet the Supreme Patriarch of Thailand on November 21, 2019.