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Phat Diem Cathedral, Ninh Binh, Vietnam

The Phát Diệm Cathedral 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.

Location

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. It is about 29 km south east of Ninh Binh and 121 kilometres (75 mi) from Hanoi.

History

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

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.

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.

The novelist Graham Greene described the Cathedral as “more Buddhist than Christian,”in his novel the Quiet American. 

Architecture

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”, which are like Pagodas. 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. The eclectic design of the cathedral appears as if the pagodas “had been dropped into the towers of a Gothic church.”

The overall size of the cathedral is 210 feet (64 m) in length with a width of 60 feet (18 m). 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. The interior walls are decorated with catholic iconography, but particularly have paintings of Eastern religious symbols like dragons, unicorns, tortoises and phoenixes.

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