GAPYEONG, SOUTH KOREA – A vintage Coca-Cola can, a pair of socks made from human hair, and an extremely large stuffed salmon.
As exhibits of religious relics go, it’s an unusual collection, but then Sun Myung Moon, the late founder of the Unification Church was — like him or loathe him — an unusual man.
Revered by followers as a messiah but denounced by critics as a charlatan, Moon died of complications from pneumonia in 2012 at the age of 92, leaving behind a church noted for its mass weddings and diverse business interests.
The teachings of the Unification Church are based on the Bible but with new interpretations, and Moon saw his role as completing the unfulfilled mission of Jesus to restore humanity to a state of “sinless” purity.
His life and work are currently the focus of an exhibition at the church’s Cheon Jung Gung Museum — an imposing, neoclassical, domed building with a startling resemblance to the U.S. Capitol. It sits nestled in a hillside at the church’s global headquarters in Gapyeong, South Korea.
Normally closed to the general public, the museum offered a restricted press tour earlier last week on the shared lunar calendar birthday of Moon and his widow, Hak Ja Han — known to church members as True Father and True Mother.
The exhibition was a showcase of the couple’s “lifetime achievements,” and contained what were described as numerous personal “relics,” that underlined the cult of personality built up around the church’s founder over the years.
Exhibits included a vintage Coca-Cola can that Moon had drunk from, shortly after his “Holy Wedding” to Han in 1960.
According to the exhibit label — printed in Korean, Japanese and English and reading like a Biblical parable — Moon had sipped from the can, then handed it to a follower, Kim Hwee-ok, to finish off.
“When True Father was giving out this can he said: ‘This can must never be lost,’ and added: ‘If it gets lost you will be called to account,’ ” the label said.
“Accordingly, Kim Hwee-ok kept it safely.”
A nearby display case showed two empty fun-sized Snicker bar wrappers, carefully pressed along with a hand tissue — the remnants of a snack Moon took during a lengthy prayer and study session in October 2007.
“The prayer meetings usually lasted five or six hours, but once he pushed on for 23 hours,” explained exhibition team manager, Park In-gyeong.
The museum was formally opened in 2006 and, according to Park, manages around 30,000 visitors a year.
One section, titled “Suffering,” charted Moon’s incarcerations in various prisons in North Korea, South Korea and, in 1984, a U.S. federal penitentiary where he served nearly 12 months for tax evasion.
Moon was born in what is now North Korea and, in 1948, was sentenced to five years hard labor in the Heungnam camp by the communist authorities for preaching in public.
On display was a pair of black socks that a devoted follower, Ok Se Hyeon, had made from her own hair and given to Moon while he was in Heungnam.
“It is said that the True Father wore these socks and could stay warm even on the coldest winter days in prison,” the accompanying label said.
“Stained with his sweat, blood and tears,” the socks serve as a model of “how to serve True Father with devotion and dedication,” it added.
A similarly themed exhibit titled “True Father’s Hair and Moist Towel” displayed some of Moon’s hair clippings taken in 2009 by his wife who always acted as his personal hairdresser.
Another section was devoted to gifts Moon and Han received from an eclectic mix of world leaders, including North Korea’s founder Kim Il Sung and his son and successor, Kim Jong Il, as well as the last leader of the Soviet Union, Mikhail Gorbachev, and former U.S. Presidents George Bush and Bill Clinton.
Despite being an ardent anti-communist, Moon traveled to North Korea in 1991 to meet Kim Il Sung to discuss reunification of the divided peninsula.
North Korea’s current leader Kim Jong Un sent a personal condolence message when Moon died and, in 2013, kept up the tradition of his father and grandfather by gifting Moon’s widow a pair of North Korean Pungsan hunting dogs.
Moon was something of an outdoors enthusiast, and one of the museum exhibits was dedicated to his love of fishing.
As well as numerous rods and lures and photos of Moon wading through rivers, the display case was dominated by a giant, stuffed Alaskan king salmon he had caught.
“He felt fishing was a little like prayer or meditation,” said church spokesman Steve Sakuwa.
“He could spend 11 hours fishing without a break. He’d always set himself a target — a number or size of fish — and then keep going until he reached it.”