The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon was built around 1863 to 1880 by the French colonists. It’s now one of Vietnam’s most impressive cathedrals, modeled after the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris. In fact, the materials used for the cathedral’s construction was shipped from France. The cathedral is among the few remnants of Catholicism in the country, which is now predominantly Buddhist. It is located in the downtown area of the city, just right across the Saigon Central Post Office. Here’s everything you need to know about this gorgeous cathedral.
Brief History of the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
Over the years, the Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon was given several names. In was first called the Saigon Church in 1863, shortly after the French colonized and conquered Saigon. At that time, the church was made mainly from wood. Unfortunately, it got badly damaged by termite infestation so it has to be rebuilt.
A design competition was held for the rebuilding of the cathedral. Jules Bourard, a French architect who is an expert in religious architecture, won the competition. His plan is to basically build a small version of the Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. Thus, the Saigon Church features Romanesque and French Gothic style similar to the famous cathedral in Paris.
Bishop Isidore Colombert laid the first stone in October 1877. Most of the construction materials were then shipped from France, including the bricks that gave the cathedral’s facade a distinct red color. In 1895, two bell towers were added, which mirrors that of the Notre Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Paris. The towers also add dramatic impact to the overall height of the church, which is now 198 feet tall!
Statue of the Virgin Mary
A statue of the Virgin Mary was erected just outside the cathedral in 1959. The state was made entirely of granite and was brought to Vietnam from Rome. During the installation of the state, a statue ceremony conducted by Pope John XXIII was held. After the ceremony, the church was formally called the Notre Dame Cathedral.
The statue of Virgin Mary hit international headlines in 2005 when some witnesses saw that there were tears falling from the face of the Virgin Mary. According to some witnesses, tears can be seen running down her right cheek, which stained the granite statue.
Thousands of people from all over the country came to visit the cathedral to witness the tears of the Virgin Mary. This has caused traffic to the area and police were called in to maintain peace and order. It’s been said that the stain of the tear remained at the cheek of the Virgin Mary for over a week, although Vietnam’s Catholic Church did not confirm if such miracle really took place.
Visiting the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral
The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is located in the downtown area of Saigon, right in the heart of the city. It’s easy to spot the cathedral, thanks to its distinct red facade and the towering bell towers. Currently, the cathedral is undergoing a major renovation project, which started in August 2017 and is expected to be finished around June 2020. Thus, the cathedral is closed to tourists.
Even though the cathedral is closed, there’s still a mass being held every Sunday in both English and Vietnamese language. Just like with visiting any religious site all over the world, tourists are expected to dress appropriately when entering the church. When there’s no mass, you can simply admire the cathedral’s beauty from the outside and take great photos. Also, if you happen to visit during the mass, refrain from making noises so as not to disturb the worshippers.
The Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon is just a walking distance away from some of the other attractions in the city. From here, you can simply walk across the road to visit the Saigon Central Post Office, another notable attraction in Ho Chi Minh that was also constructed by the French colonists in the late 19th century.
Other Beautiful Churches to Visit In Saigon
Aside from the Notre Dame Cathedral, Saigon is home to several other beautiful churches. For instance, the Tan Dinh Church is noted for its hot pink Gothic-inspired facade. Located in the District 3 area of the city, this beautiful church is truly a sight to behold and a must-visit during your trip to the city.
Another Catholic church, the Hanh Thong Tay Church, features a gorgeous Byzantine-style architecture. On the inside, you’ll find three beautiful altars made from Italian golden marble. The church’s ceilings are decorated with intricate mosaics that look very attractive.
The Cho Quan Church is another interesting catholic church to visit in Ho Chi Minh and is said to be the oldest Catholic Church in the city. Inaugurated in 1896, this church features a magnificent and unique Gothic style architecture, as well as a pointed dome and a large bell tower.