Phát Diệm Cathedral

Phát Diệm Cathedral
Nhà thờ chính tòa Phát Diệm
Cathédrale de Phat Diem

Phát Diệm Cathedral
20°03′13″N 106°02′41″E / 20.05361°N 106.04472°E / 20.05361; 106.04472Coordinates: 20°03′13″N 106°02′41″E / 20.05361°N 106.04472°E / 20.05361; 106.04472
Location Kim Sơn District of Ninh Bình Province
Country Vietnam
Denomination Roman Catholic
Consecrated 1892
Status Cathedral
Functional status Active
Style European Gothic and Vietnamese Architecture
Groundbreaking 1875
Completed 1891
Archdiocese Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi

The Phát Diệm Cathedral (Vietnamese: Nhà thờ chính tòa Phát Diệm; French: Cathédrale de Phat Diem) is located in Kim Sơn District of Ninh Bình Province of Vietnam. The architecture of Phát Diệm church, built in stone in 1892 is a blend of Vietnamese and European architectural styles called the "eclectic architectural style". The Cathedral was bombed on 1972 when its west wall, the convents and two of the schools were damaged; after restoration there are no tell-tale marks of this bombing. Although a church, it was built with pagoda type roofs in traditional Vietnamese temple architecture. It has the appearance of a "spaceship from another planet."


Complete view of the Cathedral and the bell tower

The cathedral is located in the Lưu Phương commune in Kim Sơn District of Ninh Bình Province in the Phat Diem town, a catholic area also called Kim Son.[1][2] It is about 29 km south east of Ninh Binh and 121 kilometres (75 mi) from Hanoi.[3] Standing in the paddles of Phat Diem the church gives the appearance of a "spaceship from another planet".[4]


Side view of the Cathedral

Phát Diệm Cathedral was built by the priest Father Tran Luc, also called as Pere Six in French or cu Sau in Vietnamese.[5] Pere Six's tomb is in the front yard of the cathedral.[1] The wooden statues in the cathedral were all carved by Pho Gia, a Vietnamese artisan.[6]

The Cathedral was closed in 1954 when a division of the Vietnamese forces caused Catholics to leave; they moved to safer places in South Vietnam. Now the cathedral is functional and there are many more churches in the district.[3]

On 15 August 1972 the Cathedral was bombed resulting in the collapse of its entire west wall, the convents and two of the schools. But now, after restoration, there are not even tell-tale marks of this destruction.[4]

The novelist Graham Greene described the Cathedral as "more Buddhist than Christian,"[7] in his novel the Quiet American." [8]


An angel carved in stone

The Cathedral, a towering stone edifice, was built in 1892 in the Sino-Vietnamese-style blended with stone walls built in European Gothic style. To test the foundation condition of the Cathedral site in a boggy area Father Six had created a mound of limestone boulders and found the conditions not to be suitable to build it. It is decorated with box type cupolas or domes with "upturned tiled roofs",[1][3] which are like Pagodas.[9] Pere Six, who built it, was particular to haul the sand stones to build the cathedral from quarry a distance of more than 200 kilometres (120 mi) away.[1] The eclectic design of the cathedral appears as if the pagodas "had been dropped into the towers of a Gothic church." [4]

A white statue of the Sacred Heart in a small lake opposite to the Cathedral

The overall size of the cathedral is 210 feet (64 m) in length with a width of 60 feet (18 m).[10] The nave of the cathedral is built over 52 pillars, of which 16 are of 11 metres (36 ft) height carved from large iron-wood trees. In the front worship area, the altar is made of a single slab which is ornamented in "orthodox-style" and is made of "lacquered and gilded woodwork". Above the altar there are portrait paintings of about 30 missionaries, most of European origin. The vaulted ceiling has paintings of angels in Vietnamese style.[1][4] The interior walls are decorated with catholic iconography, but particularly have paintings of Eastern religious symbols like dragons, unicorns, tortoises and phoenixes.[9]

Apart from residential buildings for the bishops, at the back wall of the cathedral, there are six other structures in the complex, including a stone chapel which looks like a tomb and an elegant bell tower in front of the Cathedral.[1] This entire complex is spread over an area of 15 acres (6.1 ha).[4] The two tonnes bronze bell in the bell tower was hauled up over a ramp made of earth. A climb to the top of the bell tower provides a complete scenic view of the town.[1] There is a platform in front the bell tower made of two layers of very large stone slabs which was used for the mandarins to watch the proceedings of the ritual Mass conducted in the Cathedral. The earth from the ramp, which was used for hauling the bell and other metal objects, was spread around the Cathedral rising the height of the ground by 1 metre (3 ft 3 in). The small chapel is built with large carved stone blocks and the interior is cool like a cave. Near the cathedral there is 19th century covered bridge built with stones.[3] A white statue of the Sacred Heart is installed in a small lake in front of the Cathedral.[8]



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