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Phat Diem Cathedral - Most beautiful stone cathedral in Vietnam

Sat, 24 Jan 2015 . Last updated Mon, 01 Jun 2015 14:19

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Phat Diem Cathedral is a religious architectural work with the cross between Christianity and Oriental architecture, an interesting destination for thousands of domestic and foreign visitors every year, to the ancient capital of Hoa Lu.

Phat Diem Stone Cathedral is located in Kim Son, Ninh Binh, about 100km from Hanoi, 30km from Ninh Binh city to the south. Phat Diem Cathedral is one of the most beautiful Churches in Vietnam and is likened to the “Catholic capital” of Vietnam. Phat Diem Cathedral complex includes many structures built in the shape of Chinese script “Vuong”. The complex comprises of a lake, Phuong Dinh (bell tower), a cathedral, Bible Chapel, the Chapel of St. Joseph, the Chapel of St. Peter and 3 artificial caves and a stone church.

Phat Diem Cathedral complex was constructed between 1865 and 1899. That the Catholic Church is modeled on the architecture of the traditional pagodas of Vietnam make it unique. This architectural complex built by talented priest Peter Tran Luc- a priest in the Diocese of Phat Diem during 1865-1899. Phat Diem Cathedral was built based on the concept of “Water in front, mountain behind” with bold Oriental style. The church has poetic landscape and shows thoughts and hope of Asians for a peaceful and good life.

This work was completed in 1899. This is the last work of Peter Tran Luc and also the last item in the complex of Phat Diem stone church. This is the most special, the highlight of the entire complex. Phuong Dinh is 25m high, 17m wide and 24m long with three stories. The first floor is covered by large green flagstones. The stone arches are fitted in the sophisticated way. Visitors will be surprised and wonder how the artisans could make this masterpiece work with simple tool hundreds of years ago, how they could lift the stones to tens of meters of height and join them together solidly. In the middle of Phuong Dinh places a monolithic bed. Outside and inside are stone carvings with the images of Jesus Christ and the saints. Every single small pattern here shows the combination in religion.

There are many interesting and mysterious things in the architecture of Phat Diem Cathedral. The ancestors left us and future generations a unique architecture. I am impressed by the stone bar that is engraved with the familiar image of Vietnam’s bamboo that symbolizes the origin of Vietnam and gentlemanliness of Vietnam guys. The second floor of Phuong Dinh hangs a big bronze drum, the third floor a bell that is 1.9 meters high, 1.1 meters in diameters, weights 2,000kg.

The large bell was cast in 1890. In the past 100 years, the bell rings in the morning or in the afternoon. It echoes 10km far so as to remind people of being faithful to the God. The roof of Phat Diem Cathedral is not as curved as the roof of other churches looks like the low curved roof of traditional pagoda in Vietnam. This is the unique feature in architecture of Peter Luc Tran. The main cathedral was built in 1891 with the official name “Nha Tho Duc Me Man Coi”. The cathedral is 74 meters long, 21 meters wide and 15 meters high with four roofs and five entrances.

At the middle on the top are two statues of angels holding the Cross, two sides are two other angel blowing trumpets. Below are four Chinese characters “Tham Phan Tien Trieu”. The roof is tiled in the shape of “mui hai”. The curved “dau dao” shows the elegant combination of Indochina and Gothic architecture. The dome architecture and the truss and beam system architecture of traditional pagodas in Northern Vietnam create an original feature for Phat Diem Cathedral. The only similarity in architecture between Phat Diem Cathedral and other cathedrals in Europe is the high ceiling. The rest of Phat Diem Cathedral is designed based on the Oriental architecture. There are wooden worshipping objects of Vietnamese tradition.

This is the space for the prayers and Masses of residents in the region. They come here with devotion and pray for God’s bless. Ten years for raising ideas and preparing materials. Nearly twenty years for building, twenty-nine years –half-life, Peter Tran Luc in 1899 when Phat Diem Cathedral was completed. His wish was considered to be fulfilled. Looking the whole complex of Phat Diem Cathedral from a distance, few people think it is a church. St. Joseph’s Cathedral or Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica carry Gothic architectural style with the distinctive feature of the vaulted ceiling, while Phat Diem Cathedral has Vietnamese stylized architecture with the roof of an upturned-boat shape- a symbol of the water civilization of ancient Vietnamese people.

Despite the blend of tradition and modernity, of Catholic and Oriental architecture, Phat Diem Cathedral does not lose the characteristics of a Christian church. The images of saints and the angels beside the Cross on the top of the Cathedral’s roof, the most iconic images of Christianity, guide way for the people in this region. The highlight of Phat Diem Cathedral complex is Immaculate Heart of Mary Church, also known as the Stone Church.

The church was constructed in 1883 entirely from stone, from the ground, walls, bars, columns, and beams to reliefs… This is considered the most wonderful work in the complex and Phat Diem Cathedral.  The church was built in 1883 by blue stone that is millions of years old. They were taken from different places like Ninh Binh and Thanh Hoa. The patterns are carved on stone, not wood. The building includes: stone floor, stone wall, stone bars and stone doorstep. The pillars and truss system are also made of stone. Over 100 years, the work has remained intact. If we look carefully, we can see the interior of the stone church is divided into 5 compartments. They all face the South. The building with the three-door gate shows the three subjections of Vietnamese women.

The 4 species of trees pine-tree, bamboo, daisy and apricot that symbolize 4 seasons of spring, summer, autumn and winter. Apricot flowers symbolize the elegance. The bamboo with straight body symbolized the strong will of Vietnamese men to overcome difficulties. All kinds of trees shed their leaves in winter, but daisy blooms colorful and the pine tree is still green. The stone bars were made with simple tools. And the doorstep is a cultural feature of Vietnamese people. The pigeon symbols the Trinity. It is made of stone. It is the symbol of the Spirit who together with Holy Mary gave birth to Jesus.

There are two stone beams that are 5.8m long. However, there are no pillars to supports the beams. The beams connect the two compartments. The architects say the beams are now more than millions of years old and they are must be made of marble so that they can be intact for 100 years. The limestone beams can just exist for 30 years.

For any parishioner or visitor to Phat Diem Cathedral, it is a great pride and good luck when setting foot on the stone church. Many have come here to admire a unique architecture in Vietnam. The 100-year-old Phat Diem Cathedral is worthy the pinnacle of Vietnamese architecture, the symbol of the profound humanistic spirit of the people of Vietnam in the ingenious blend of cultures and religions. The complex of Phat Diem Cathedral is the combination of East – West cultures.

It is also the symbol of the interference between Catholics and traditional beliefs of the Vietnamese people. It is the emphasis in the picture of the history and landscape of Ninh Binh. Phat Diem Cathedral is now an interesting tourist attraction in Ninh Binh for local and foreign tourists. 


Source: VTC10 - NETVIET

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