Severely damaged by an earthquake and heavy rains, in 1981 the brick pagoda of Famensi (Templo of the Dharma Gate) collapsed and when in 1987 archaeologists undertook excavations, they discovered a sealed context from the year 874 in its “Underground Palace” (Digong), built in the form of a Chinese tomb. The unearthed relics of purported finger bones from the historic Buddha and the untouched sumptuous objects, probably donated by several emperors, are regarded as one of the most important discoveries of Chinese archaeology in the 20th Century and were declared the Ninth Wonder by UNESCO. Today Famensi and its pagoda, now reconstructed, constitute an important site of pilgrimage. In this paper I describe these extraordinary finds and outline its relation with Esoteric Buddhism and the ritual practices of relic veneration by members of the royal court, as well as their political use by emperors who tried to establish a Kingdom of Buddha in East Asia, especially the famous Tang dynasty empress Wu Zetian.
Keywords: Pagodas, relics worship, esoteric Buddhism, Sui and Tang dynasties.