Phát Diệm Cathedral

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Phát Diệm Cathedral
Nhà thờ chính tòa Phát Diệm
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
LocationKim Sơn District of Ninh Bình Province
DenominationRoman Catholic
Functional statusActive
StyleVietnamese/neo-Gothic eclecticism
ArchdioceseRoman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi

The Phát Diệm Cathedral (Vietnamese: Nhà thờ chính tòa Phát Diệm; French: Cathédrale de Phat Diem) is in Kim Sơn District of Ninh Bình Province of Vietnam. The architecture of the church – built in stone in 1892 – is an eclectic blend of Vietnamese and European architectural styles. Although a church, it was built with pagoda-type roofs like traditional Vietnamese temples. It was bombed in 1972 and later restored. In addition to the cathedral, the Phát Diệm complex also consists of 5 chapels.


Complete view of the Cathedral and the bell tower

The cathedral is located in Phát Diệm township of Kim Sơn District in Ninh Bình Province.[1][2] It is about 29 km southeast of Ninh Binh and 121 kilometres (75 mi) from Hanoi.[3][4]


Side view of the Cathedral

Phát Diệm Cathedral was built by the priest Father Tran Luc (Père Six in French, or cu Sau in Vietnamese).[5] Père Six's tomb is in the frontyard 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 again functioning as a place of worship, 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 Vietnamese style, blended with stone walls built in European neo-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 (domes) with "upturned tiled roofs",[1][3] which are like pagodas.[9] Père 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 statue of Our Lady of La Vang in a lake by 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 11-metre tall (36 ft), carved from large ironwood trees. In the front worship area, the altar is made of a single slab, 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-tonne 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. The platform was used by mandarins to watch 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]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g Guides 2015, p. 406.
  2. ^ Lưu 2000, p. 236.
  3. ^ a b c d Ray & Yanagihara2005, p. 177.
  4. ^ a b c d e Broyles 2013, p. 1.
  5. ^ Keith 2012, p. 52.
  6. ^ Sasges 2013, p. 106.
  7. ^ Keith 2012, p. 48.
  8. ^ a b Greene 2010, p. 39.
  9. ^ a b Guides 2015, p. 218.
  10. ^ Welch 2015, p. 189.


  • Broyles, William (2013). Goodbye Vietnam. Open Road Media. ISBN 978-1-4804-0433-5.
  • Greene, Graham (2010). The Quiet American. Random House. ISBN 978-1-4090-1740-0.
  • Guides, Insight (2015). Insight Guides: Vietnam. APA. ISBN 978-1-78005-537-4.
  • Keith, Charles (2012). Catholic Vietnam: A Church from Empire to Nation. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-27247-7.
  • Lưu, Minh trị (2000). Historical remains & beautiful places of Hanoi and the surrounding areas. Nhà xuá̂t bản Hà Nội.
  • Ray, Nick; Yanagihara, Wendy (2005). Vietnam. Lonely Planet. ISBN 978-1-74059-677-0.
  • Sasges, Gerard (1 July 2013). It's a Living: Work and Life in Vietnam Today. NUS Press. ISBN 978-9971-69-698-6.
  • Welch, Larry (2015). School Days in Vietnam Stories from the Heart. Trafford Publishing. ISBN 978-1-4907-6066-7.

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