Monday, March 23, 2015

Saigon's Notre Dame Cathedral

Date of visit: 30th December 2014

For those who has read my earlier travelogue must have recall how excited I was when writing about the history of Paris-Notre Dame Cathedral and related fiction's novel "the Hunchback of Notre Dame" during my 2nd leg of Train Rides journey crossing Europe. I equally excited to include a visit to Saigon's Notre Dame Cathedral when I was there last December.

At the onset I’m glad that I have visited the Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica which in my opinion worth sharing its name from original cathedral in Paris. Everything about the basilica is grandeur as it was designed by the French’s Architect. Notre Dame of Saigon is officially a “Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception a cathedral” located in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh City. It was established by French colonists, constructed between 1863 and 1880 when Vietnam was under their rules. It has 2 significant bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters each.

It is norm for the Roman Catholic Church to establish a community and religious services for French colonialists following any of the French conquest, including in Khmer and Saigon. The first church was built on Ngo Duc Ke Street which we passed by but for some reason we did not stop. There was a Vietnamese pagoda, abandoned during the war turned as a church. As the church was too small, French admiral decided to build a wooden church on the canal bank in 1863. On the same year too the first stone for construction of the church was placed, though it only commenced two years later and was called "Saigon Church".

Through an open bid after the Government called for design competition, J. Bourard was the successful bidder and became supervisor of constructions. Almost all the building materials were imported from France. The outside wall of the cathedral was built with bricks from Marseille. Although the contractor did not use coated concrete, these bricks have retained their bright red color until today, which is an amazing things after almost 150 years.

The total construction cost was 2.5 million French francs (150 years ago-sources from Wikipedia). The cathedral was called as State Cathedral due to the source of the construction funds in the beginning. In subsequent years, two bell towers were added to the cathedral, each 57.6 m high with six bronze bells with the total weight of 28.85 metric tonnes. The crosses were installed on the top of each tower of 3.5 m high, 2 m wide, 600 kg in weight. The total height of the cathedral to the top of the Cross is 60.5 m in total.

There used to be a bronze statue of Bishop of Adran (the son of Emperor Gia Long) made in France in the cathedral garden but it was removed in 1945, left its foundation base. In 1959, Bishop Joseph Pham Van Thien, whose jurisdiction included Saigon parish, attended the Marian Congress held in Vatican and ordered a statue of Our Lady of Peace made with granite in Rome. When the statue arrived in Saigon in 1959, the Bishop held a ceremony to install the statue on the empty base and presented the title of "Regina Pacis". It was the same bishop who wrote the prayers "Notre-Dame bless the peace to Vietnam". The next day, Cardinal Aganianian came from Rome to chair the closing ceremony of the Marian Congress and solemnly chaired the ceremony for the statue, thus the cathedral was then-on called Notre-Dame Cathedral, i.e. in 1959.

During October 2005, the statue was reported to have shed tears, attracting thousands of people and forcing authorities to stop traffic around the Cathedral. However, the top clergy of the Catholic Church in Vietnam confirmed that the Virgin Mary statue in front of a cathedral did not shed tears, which nevertheless failed to disperse the crowd flocking to the statue days after the incident. The reported 'tear' flowed down the right cheek of the face of the statue.

In 1960, Pope John XXIII erected Roman Catholic dioceses in Vietnam and assigned archbishops to Hanoi, Hue and Saigon. The cathedral was titled Saigon Chief Cathedral. In 1962, Pope John XXIII anointed the Saigon Chief Cathedral, and conferred it the status of a basilica. From this time, this cathedral was called Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.

I hope all shared information from Wikipedia about the reasons why there’s another Notre Dame cathedral outside Paris able to educate you and shared some lights of its origin’s name.

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