대한불교조계종 21교구의 본사인 순천 송광사의 말사이며, 희종4년 만연선사가 창건하였다.
창건설화에는 만연선사가 무등산의 원효사에서 수도를 마치고 송광사로 돌아가던 중 현재의 만연사 위치인 골짜기에서 잠시 쉬다 잠이 들었는데 꿈속에 십육나한이 석가모니불상을 모실 역사를 하고 있는 꿈을 꾼다. 꿈이 깬 후 주위를 둘러보니 선사가 누운 자리만이 눈이 녹아 김이 모락모락 나는것이 경이로워 토굴을 짓고 수도하다가 만연사를 창건하였다고 한다.
여타 사찰처럼 여러차례 중건과 중수를 거쳐 오늘날에 왔지만 6.25를 거치면서 완전히 소실 되었다가 1978년부터 약 4년에 걸쳐 중창하였다.
부속암자로 선정암과 성주암이 있다.
Korea is one of the oldest continuous civilizations in the world with over five thousand years of history. According to the original creation myth, the world we live in today is the work of the Heavenly Prince Hwanung, whose father was the King of Heaven.The Heavenly Prince asked his father to give him some land to govern, so the Father sent him down to Mount Taebaek. With him the Prince brought the Minister of Clouds, the Earl of Rain and the Chancellor of Wind. They also brought three thousand helpers.Under the shade of a sandalwood tree the Prince founded a holy city called Sinsi, the City of God. He put his Ministers in charge of three hundred and sixty areas of human culture, teaching them to grow crops and to make laws concerning what is good and what is evil.A tiger and a bear living in a nearby cave saw this city and desperately wanted to become human. Every day they came to the sandalwood tree at the center of the city to pray fervently for becoming humans.Hwanung saw their devotion and gave them instructions to remain in the cave and fast for one month, eating nothing but garlic and mugwort. The tiger was too impatient to stand the long and boring days in the cave, so he gave up and left, but Bear maintained the fast. At the end of the month she was transformed into a beautiful woman who became the mother of the Korean people.Her first son was Don-gun, the First King of the Korean people. When Don-Gun passed on the throne to his own son, he became a Mountain God. It is interesting that mountain gods are still worshipped today in Korea.Text by Steve Smith.