Christianity in Vietnam

Christianity enters Vietnam
Christianity was introduced to Vietnam in the 16th century by missionaries from Europe’s main Catholic evangelist countries, France, Spain and Portugal. One of the early arrivals was Alexandre de Rhodes, a French Jesuit who greatly impressed the Trinh lords who ruled the north at that time, thus easing the way for permanent missions in Hanoi, Danang and Hoi An.

Expulsion from Vietnam
As the creator of the Romanised written form of the Vietnamese language, Alexandre de Rhodes could justifiably be considered as one of the founding fathers of modern Vietnam. However, his reward was expulsion along with all the other Christians when the Trinh lords decided that Christianity in the form of Catholicism was subverting the beliefs that kept them in power. Apart from its later use in the Catholic Church in Vietnam, his script was ignored until the 20th century.

However, de Rhodes continued to proselytise through the Societe des Mission Etrangeres, a French evangelical organisation he helped to create, seeking converts throughout Indochina. In the following years, Catholicism was re-established in Vietnam and grew rapidly.

Oppression under Minh Mang
By the beginning of the 19th century, there were many thousands of Catholics in Vietnam. Catholicism’s relationship with Vietnam’s rulers was uneasy: the kings were wary of its doctrine of equality in the eyes of God, a belief that directly challenged the feudal Confucian system that legitimated their control. Under King Ming Manh, a strict Confucian, suspicion turned to oppression. Churches were razed, and Vietnamese and foreign devotees refusing to renounce their faith were executed.

Enter the French
Minh Mang’s excesses, although much exaggerated, gave the French the excuse they were looking for to invade, and Catholicism was reinstated. The Catholic Church flourished under the colonialists’ patronage, opening missions, schools and hospitals all over the country, and becoming Vietnam’s largest landowner. Vietnamese Catholics were favoured above their compatriots and became an educated elite.

An exodus to the south
By the 1950s, with the communists governing in the north, over half a million Catholics crossed the demilitarised zone to settle in the south, then controlled by the Saigon regime led by President Ngo Dinh Diem, a Catholic. Those that remained in the north were allowed to continue to practice their faith, but under tight control.

The post-war years
After reunification, the communists placed restrictions on the Catholic Church and imprisoned several of its leaders who had actively opposed the new government. Since then, controls have relaxed and relationships between Vietnam and the Vatican have become cordial. However, a papal visit to the second-largest Catholic population in Southeast Asia is still some way off.

The Protestant faith
Protestantism was mainly introduced by the Americans in the south in the form of militant evangelism, and now claims approximately half a million adherents. Many of these are in the ethnic groups of the Central Highlands. In recent years, there has been considerable unrest in the area. American ‘Gospel’ organisations frequently issue ‘reports’ alleging human rights abuse and denial of religious freedom. Putting aside the issue of differing perceptions between the US and Asia about what constitutes ‘human rights’, a trawl of the Internet soon reveals that the aim of many such groups are more political than religious.

The buildings
From a visitor’s point of view, many Catholic churches are well worth a visit. The Gothic edifices of Ho Chi Minh City, Hanoi, Hue and Da Lat are replicas of European cathedrals, and often built of imported materials. They have attractive features, but the home-grown products are of greater interest to the traveller.

The famous ‘Stone Church’
In particular, the ‘Stone Church’ of Phat Diem in the north, the bell tower of which was immortalised by Graham Greene in ‘The Quiet American’, is a highly satisfying blend of Christianity and the orient. The lifetime achievement of a Vietnamese cleric, Father Tran Luc, it is an architectural gem combining what looks like a Vietnamese temple at first sight with Christian symbolism and statuary. The interior is stunning – a 75m roof supported by huge ironwood pillars and a magnificent altarpiece.

Unusual churches
Many of the churches in the Central Highlands also combine Western and Eastern styles and some have highly unusual features, reflecting the area’s strong animist tradition


Roman Catholicism in Vietnam

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia  (August 2013)

The Roman Catholic Church in Vietnam is part of the worldwide Catholic Church, under the spiritual leadership of the Pope and curia in Rome. Vietnam has the fifth largest Catholic population in Asia, after the Philippines, India, China and Indonesia. According to Catholic Hierarchy Catalog, there are 5,658,000 Catholics in Vietnam, representing 6.87% of the total population.[1] There are 26 dioceses (including three archdioceses) with 2228 parishes and 2668 priests.[1]


Alexandre de Rhodes

Alexander de Rhodes – missionary priest and creator of Vietnamese alphabet

The first Catholic missionaries visited Vietnam from Portugal at the beginning of the 16th century. The earliest missions did not bring very impressive results. Only after the arrival of Jesuits in the first decades of the 17th century did Christianity begin to establish its positions within the local population. Between 1627-30, Alexander de Rhodes and Antoine Marquez, priests from the region of Provence in France,[2] converted more than 6,000 people.

In the 17th century, de Rhodes created an alphabet for the Vietnamese language, using the Latin with added diacritic marks, based on the work of earlier Portuguese missionaries. This system continues to be used today, and is called Quốc Ngữ (literally “national language”).

Pigneau de Behaine and the Nguyễn

Main articles: Gia Long and Pigneau de Behaine

The French missionary priest and Bishop of Adran Pigneau de Behaine played a key role in Vietnamese history towards the end of the 18th century. He had come to southern Vietnam to proselytize. In 1777, the Tây Sơn brothers killed the ruling Nguyễn lords, and Nguyễn Ánh was the most senior member of the family to have survived, and he fled into the Mekong region in the far south, where he met Pigneau.[3][4][5][6][7][8] Pigneau became Nguyễn Ánh’s confidant.[3][9] Pigneau reportedly hoped that by playing a substantial role in helping Ánh attain victory, he would be in position to gain important concessions for the Catholic Church in Vietnam and helping its expansion throughout Southeast Asia. From then on he became a politician and military strategist.[10]

At one stage during the civil war, the Nguyễn were in trouble, so Pigneau was dispatched to seek French aid. He was able to recruit a band of French volunteers.[11] Pigneau and other missionaries acted as business agents for Nguyễn Ánh, purchasing munitions and other military supplies.[12] Pigneau also served as a military advisor and de facto foreign minister until his death in 1799.[13][14] From 1794, Pigneau took part in all campaigns. He organized the defense of Diên Khánh when it was besieged by a numerically vastly superior Tây Sơn army in 1794.[15] Upon Pigneau’s death,[16] Gia Long’s funeral oration described the Frenchman as “the most illustrious foreigner ever to appear at the court of Cochinchina”.[17][17][18]

By 1802, when Nguyễn Ánh conquered all of Vietnam and declared himself Emperor Gia Long, the Roman Catholic Church in Vietnam had 3 dioceses as follows:

Diocese of Eastern North Vietnam: 140,000 members, 41 Vietnamese priests, 4 missionary priests and 1 bishop.

Diocese of Western North Vietnam: 120,000 members, 65 Vietnamese priests, 46 missionary priests and 1 bishop

Diocese of Central and South Vietnam: 60,000 members, 15 Vietnamese priests, 5 missionary priests and 1 bishop.[19]

Gia Long tolerated the Catholic faith of his French allies and permitted unimpeded missionary activities out of respect to his benefactors.[20] The missionary activities were dominated by the Spanish in Tonkin and the French in the central and southern regions.[21] At the time of his death, there were six European bishops in Vietnam.[21] The population of Christians was estimated at 300,000 in Tonkin and 60,000 in Cochinchina.[22]

Later Nguyễn Dynasty

The peaceful coexistence of Catholicism alongside the classical Confucian system of Vietnam was not to last. Gia Long himself was Confucian in outlook. As Crown Prince Nguyễn Phúc Cảnh had already died, it was assumed that Cảnh’s son would succeed Gia Long as emperor, but, in 1816, Nguyễn Phúc Đảm, the son of Gia Long’s second wife, was appointed instead.[23] Gia Long chose him for his strong character and his deeply conservative aversion to Westerners, whereas Cảnh’s lineage had converted to Catholicism and were reluctant to maintain their Confucian traditions such as ancestor worship.[24]

Lê Văn Duyệt and many of the high-ranking mandarins opposed Gia Long’s succession plan.[25] Duyệt and many of his southern associates tended to be favorable to Christianity, and supported the installation of Nguyễn Cảnh’s descendants on the throne. As a result, Duyệt was held in high regard by the Catholic community.[26] According to the historian Mark McLeod, Duyệt was more concerned with military rather than social needs, and was thus more interested in maintaining strong relations with Europeans so that he could acquire weapons from them, rather than worrying about the social implications of westernization.[26] Gia Long was aware that Catholic clergy were opposed to the installation of Minh Mạng because they favored a Catholic monarch (Cảnh’s son) who would grant them favors.[26]

Minh Mạng began to place restrictions on Catholicism.[27] He enacted “edicts of interdiction of the Catholic religion” and condemned Christianity as a “heterodox doctrine”. He saw the Catholics as a possible source of division,[27] especially as the missionaries were arriving in Vietnam in ever-increasing numbers.[28] Duyệt protected Vietnamese Catholic converts and westerners from Minh Mạng’s policies by disobeying the emperor’s orders.[29]

Minh Mạng issued an imperial edict, which ordered missionaries to leave their areas and move to the imperial city, ostensibly because the palace needed translators, but in order to stop the Catholics from proselytizing.[30] Whereas the government officials in central and northern Vietnam complied, Duyệt disobeyed the order and Minh Mạng was forced to bide his time.[30] The emperor began to slowly wind back the military powers of Duyệt, and increased this after his death.[31] Minh Mạng ordered the posthumous humiliation of Duyệt, which resulted in the desecration of his tomb, the execution of sixteen relatives, and the arrests of his colleagues.[32] Duyệt’s son, Lê Văn Khôi, along with the southerners who had seen their and Duyệt’s power curtailed, revolted against Minh Mạng.

Khôi declared himself in favor of the restoration of the line of Prince Cảnh.[33] This choice was designed to obtain the support of Catholic missionaries and Vietnamese Catholics, who had been supporting the Catholic line of Prince Cảnh. Lê Văn Khôi further promised to protect Catholicism.[33] In 1833, the rebels took over southern Vietnam,[33][34] with Catholics playing a large role.[35] 2,000 Vietnamese Catholic troops fought under the command of Father Nguyễn Văn Tâm.[36]

The rebellion was suppressed after three years of fighting. The French missionary Father Joseph Marchand, of the Paris Foreign Missions Society was captured in the siege, and had been supporting Khôi, and asked for the help of the Siamese army, through communications to his counterpart in Siam, Father Jean-Louis Taberd. This showed the strong Catholic involvement in the revolt and Father Marchand was executed.[34]

The failure of the revolt had a disastrous effect on the Christians of Vietnam.[35] New restrictions against Christians followed, and demands were made to find and execute remaining missionaries.[36] Anti-Catholic edicts to this effect were issued by Minh Mạng in 1836 and 1838. In 1836-37 six missionaries were executed: Ignacio Delgado, Dominico Henares, José Fernández, François Jaccard,Jean-Charles Cornay, and Bishop Pierre Borie.[37][38]

Colonial era

Persistent rebellions occurred throughout the Nguyễn Dynasty, many led by Catholic priests’ intent on installing a Christian monarch. During the French colonial campaign against Vietnam from 1858 to 1883, many Catholics, including priests, joined with the French in helping to establish colonialism by fighting against the Vietnamese government. In 1858, when the first expeditions were launched by Admiral Rigault de Genouilly, he was accompanied by an adviser, Bishop Pellerin. Once colonial rule was established the Catholics were rewarded with preferential treatment in government posts, education, and the church was given vast tracts of royal land that had been seized.[citation needed]

Roman Catholicism in South Vietnam (1954–1975)

From 1954-75, Vietnam was split into North and South Vietnam. In a country where surveys of the religious composition estimated the Buddhist majority to be between 70 and 90 percent,[39][40][41][42][43][44][45] President Ngô Đình Diệm‘s policies generated claims of religious bias. As a member of the Catholic minority, he pursued policies which antagonized and disenfranchised the Buddhist majority. The government was biased towards Catholics in public service and military promotions, and the allocation of land, business favors and tax concessions.[46] Diệm once told a high-ranking officer, forgetting the man was from a Buddhist background, “Put your Catholic officers in sensitive places. They can be trusted.”[47] Many officers in the Army of the Republic of Vietnam converted to Catholicism to better their prospects.[47] The distribution of firearms to village self-defense militias intended to repel Việt Cộng guerrillas saw weapons only given to Catholics.[48] Some Catholic priests ran their own private armies,[49] and in some areas forced conversions occurred.[50] Some villages converted en masse in order to receive aid or avoid being forcibly resettled by Diệm’s regime.[51] The Catholic Church was the largest landowner in the country, and its holdings were exempt from reform and given extra property acquisition rights, while restrictions against Buddhism remained in force.[52][53] Catholics were also de facto exempt from thecorvée labor that the government obliged all citizens to perform; U.S. aid was disproportionately distributed to Catholic majority villages. In 1959, Diem dedicated his country to the Virgin Mary.[54]

The white and gold Vatican flag was regularly flown at all major public events in South Vietnam.[55] The newly constructed Huế and Đà Lạt universities were placed under Catholic authority to foster a Catholic-influenced academic environment.[56]

In May 1963, in the central city of Huế, where Diệm’s elder brother Pierre Martin Ngô Đình Thục was archbishop, Buddhists were prohibited from displaying Buddhist flags during Vesak celebrations.[57] A few days earlier, Catholics were encouraged to fly religious flags at a celebration in honor of Thục. This led to a protest against the government, which was suppressed by Diệm’s forces, killing nine civilians. This led to a mass campaign against Diệm’s government during the Buddhist crisis, and Diệm was deposed and assassinated on 2 November 1963.[58][59]

Present time

Notre Dame HCMC

Notre Dame Cathedral in Hồ Chí Minh City

The first Vietnamese bishop, John Baptist Nguyễn Bá Tòng, was consecrated in 1933 at St. Peter’s Basilica by Pope Pius XI.[19] In 1976, the Holy See made Archbishop Joseph Mary Trịnh Như Khuê the first Vietnamese cardinal. Joseph Mary Cardinal Trịnh Văn Căn in 1979, and Paul Joseph Cardinal Phạm Đình Tung in 1994, were his successors. The well-known Vietnamese Cardinal Nguyên Văn Thuân, who was imprisoned by the Communist regime from 1975–88 and spent nine years in solitary confinement, was nominated Secretary of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace, and made its President in 1998. On 21 February 2001, he was elevated to the College of Cardinals by Pope John Paul II.[19]Vietnamese Catholics who died for their faith from 1533 to the present day were canonized in 1988 by John Paul II as “Vietnamese Martyrs“.

There have been meetings between leaders of Vietnam and the Vatican, including a visit by Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyễn Tấn Dũng to the Vatican to meet Pope Benedict XVI on 25 January 2007. Official Vatican delegations have been traveling to Vietnam almost every year since 1990 for meetings with its government authorities and to visit Catholic dioceses. In March 2007, a Vatican delegation visited Vietnam and met with local officials.[60] The sides discussed the possibility of establishing diplomatic relations in normal atmosphere, but have not provided a specific schedule for the exchange of ambassadors.

The issues of continued restrictions on Catholic life in Vietnam and the nominating of bishops by the Pope without or with insisted by local government approval of Vietnamese bodies remain obstacles in bilateral dialog. In March 2007, Thaddeus Nguyễn Văn Lý (b. 1946), a dissident Roman Catholic priest, was sentenced by Vietnamese court in Huế to eight years in prison on grounds of “anti-government activities”. Nguyen, who had already spent 14 of the past 24 years in prison, was accused of being a founder of a pro-democracy movement Bloc 8406 and a member of the Progression Party of Vietnam.[61]

On 16 September 2007, the fifth anniversary of the Cardinal Nguyễn Văn Thuận‘s death, the Roman Catholic Church began the beatification process for him.[62] Benedict XVI expressed “profound joy” at the news of the official opening of the beatification cause.[63]Vietnamese Catholics reacted positively to the news of the beatification. In December 2007, thousands of Vietnamese Catholics marched in procession to the former apostolic nunciature in Hanoi and prayed there twice aiming to return the property to the local church.[64] The building was a historic Buddhist site until it was confiscated by the French colonists and given to Catholics, before the communist North Vietnamese government confiscated it from the Vatican in 1959. This was the first mass civil action by Vietnamese Catholics since the 1970s. Later the protests were supported by Catholics in Hồ Chí Minh City and Hà Ðông, who made the same demands for their respective territories.[65] In February 2008, the governments promised to return the building to the Roman Catholic Church.[66] A year later, in September 2008, the authorities changed their position and decided to demolish the building to create a public park.[67]

Roman Catholic dioceses

There are 26 dioceses including three archdioceses. The Archdioceses are:

The dioceses are:

See also


  1. a b Catholic Hierarchy website
  2. ^ Catholic Encyclopedia, Indochina
  3. a b Hall, p. 423.
  4. ^ Cady, p. 282.
  5. ^ Buttinger, p. 266.
  6. ^ Mantienne, p. 520.
  7. ^ McLeod, p. 7.
  8. ^ Karnow, p. 75.
  9. ^ Buttinger, p. 234.
  10. ^ McLeod, p. 9.
  11. ^ Buttinger, pp. 237-40.
  12. ^ McLeod, p. 10.
  13. ^ Cady, p. 284.
  14. ^ Hall, p. 431.
  15. ^ Mantienne, p.135
  16. ^ Karnow, p. 77.
  17. a b Buttinger, p. 267.
  18. ^ Karnow, p. 78.
  19. a b c “Catholic Church in Vietnam with 470 years of Evangelization”Rev. John Trần Công Nghị, Religious Education Congress in Anaheim. 2004. Retrieved 2007-05-17.
  20. ^ Buttinger, pp. 241, 311.
  21. a b Cady, p. 408.
  22. ^ Cady, p. 409.
  23. ^ Buttinger, p. 268.
  24. ^ Buttinger, p. 269.
  25. ^ Choi, pp. 56-57
  26. a b c McLeod, p. 24.
  27. a b McLeod, p. 26.
  28. ^ McLeod, p. 27.
  29. ^ Choi, pp. 60-61
  30. a b McLeod, p. 28.
  31. ^ McLeod, pp. 28-29.
  32. ^ McLeod, p. 29.
  33. a b c McLeod, p. 30
  34. a b Chapuis, p. 192
  35. a b Wook, p. 95
  36. a b McLeod, p. 31
  37. ^ McLeod, p. 32
  38. ^ The Cambridge History of Christianity, p. 517
  39. ^ The 1966 Buddhist Crisis in South Vietnam HistoryNet
  40. ^ Gettleman, pp. 275-76, 366.
  41. ^ Moyar, pp. 215–216.
  42. ^ “South Viet Nam: The Religious Crisis”Time. 14 June 1963. Retrieved 22 May 2010.
  43. ^ Tucker, pp. 49, 291-93.
  44. ^ Maclear, p. 63.
  45. ^ SNIE 53-2-63, “The Situation in South Vietnam, 10 July 1963
  46. ^ Tucker, p. 291.
  47. a b Gettleman, pp. 280–82.
  48. ^ “South Vietnam: Whose funeral pyre?”. New Republic. 29 June 1963. p. 9.
  49. ^ Warner, p. 210.
  50. ^ Fall, p. 199.
  51. ^ Buttinger, p. 993.
  52. ^ Karnow, p. 294.
  53. ^ Buttinger p. 933.
  54. ^ Jacobs p. 91.
  55. ^ “Diệm’s other crusade”. New Republic. 22 June 1963. pp. 5–6.
  56. ^ Halberstam, David (17 June 1963). “Diệm and the Buddhists”. New York Times.
  57. ^ Topmiller, p. 2.
  58. ^ Karnow, p. 295.
  59. ^ Moyar, pp. 212-13.
  60. ^ “Vatican: Vietnam working on full diplomatic relations with Holy See”Catholic News Service. 2007-03-12. Retrieved 2007-05-15.
  61. ^ Asia News, March 2007
  62. ^ “Late Vietnamese cardinal put on road to sainthood”Reuters. 17 September 2007.
  63. ^ UCANews at
  64. ^ UCA News
  65. ^ “Vietnamese Catholics broaden their protest demanding justice”, Asianews, 15 January 2008]
  66. ^ “Archbishop of Hanoi confirms restitution of nunciature, thanks pope”
  67. ^ “In Hanoi, stance of repression against Catholics seems to have won”, Asianews], September 2008
  68. a b “Catholic Dioceses in Vietnam”Giga-Catholic Information. 2007-05-10. Retrieved 2007-05-15.


External links

This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). Catholic Encyclopedia. Robert Appleton Company.


The Archbishopric’s Tale Of HCMC’s ‘Oldest Building’
(No.2, Vol.3, Mar 2013 Vietnam Heritage Magazine)

Oldest Building
Roof of the chapel. Photo: Ba Han


Many of us will have passed by the imposing French architecture Archbishop’s Palace on the corner of Nguyen Dinh Chieu and Tran Quoc Thao in HCMC’s District Three, admired its facade and then given it no further thought. Most of us not being connected to the Catholic faith would have thought it a private business and not entertained the idea it might be worth more than just a photograph and arranged to visit it. Before I went, I naturally tried to cull as much information as possible. My first source was my Saigon friends, colleagues and students. Many had never heard of the place and none knew much about it. The ‘Lonely Planet’ edition for Vietnam strangely makes no mention of this icon of the French quarter. The internet has scant information but I did glean that here, reputedly, is Saigon’s oldest building. I took that to mean the imposing edifice on view from the street. Happily, my visit proved this not to be the case and I was able to unearth some information for you which is now to be published for the very first time.
The offices for the administration of Ho Chi Minh City diocese are housed in a large, new building behind the one seen from the street. I had no trouble finding the public relations office to which I had phoned ahead for my visit. A kind lady introduced me to the ‘Keeper of the Archives’, Father Andrew (Tran An Hiet) who held the keys both literally and figuratively, as he was to my guide. The archivist needs to be quite a linguist, as documents are held in Latin, French, Italian, English and Vietnamese. Father Andrew, who studied canon law at the Vatican, was eager to practice both his English and French with me. He asked me how strong the church was in my country. ‘Well, the English are all culturally Christian,’ I replied, ‘but not so many attend church on a regular basis.’ I was blushing, as I know in Vietnam, church services are fully attended and when I have been at Christmas they brim to overfilling onto the streets. Father Andre replied, ‘here we are a minority but we are strong.’ He attributed this strength to having suffered martyrdom in the early years soon after the oldest house was occupied to the tune of 130,000 adherents. This occurred mainly during second half of the rule of Nguyen Emperor Minh Mang, from 1831 until 1841, when the religion was outlawed. I checked on the gruesome story of the Vietnamese Christian martyrs on the internet and can tell you the figure he quoted lies at the lower conservative end of the official Vatican estimate.
We trundled down the stairs and out to a corner of the precincts where the ‘oldest building stands’. The building itself is not particularly outstanding. It is a typical traditional Vietnamese house, such as you can still now see in the countryside or even transposed from the villages, in order to add cultural atmosphere in the grounds of hotels and dwellings of the wealthy. It is one-storied, with a low, sloping tiled roof and with an interior structure of black wooden beams and rafters. Originally, it was a residence with just a corner for the private worship for the priest, but now it has been converted into an exquisite chapel with an altar, upon which stand statues of the holy family as its centerpiece. Mass is held here on a daily basis.

I returned the following day, as Father Andrew had promised to prepare for me in English a summary of the research he has personally done on the origins of the chapel. At his request and with his co-operation, I was able to ‘polish’ the English. Father Andrew will make the handout available to all with an interest in the building.
The chapel was built in 1790 by King Nguyen Anh (Gia Long), twelve years before he ascended to the throne, on the right bank of the Thi Nghe canal to serve as the inn for Pigneau be Behaine, Bishop of Adran and Apostolic Vicar of Cochin China. It was here that the Bishop tutored one of Nguyen Anh’s sons, the Prince Canh, who lived on-site. This location is near the current Saigon Zoo. After this bishop’s death, it was upgraded with a tiled roof and served as the inn for missionaries, eventually becoming the residence of Bishop Dominique Lefebre from 1844, after the tumultuous years described above finally ended, until 1864.

Interior View

Interior view of the chapel. Photo: Ba Han
Pews and confession box. Photo: Ba Han

The story of how the French came to be presented with the building is well known. It was given in gratitude for their role in the suppression of the Tay Son rebellion, which resulted in the consolidation of the power of the Nguyen Dynasty in the recently settled lands of the south. The beleaguered King Nguyen Anh had taken refuge in Thailand, where he had gained the support of the Thais. When the Thai army that entered Vietnam was routed by the Tay Son troops in just two days, there was no alternative now but to accept the French offer of their military intervention in order to save the day.

When the French expanded the Zoological and Botanical gardens in Thi Nghe parish, the building was transferred to a spot near what is now the Reunification Palace. It was only in 1911 that it was relocated once again to where we can see it today.
The shape and appearance of the building has not changed over the two hundred years, according to information culled from Vietnam. A renovation of 1945 replaced termite and woodworm-infested walls with brick ones and in 1980, the pillars which had become victim of woodworm were renovated and the insides filled with reinforced concrete. The short article on this site praises these renovations and holds them up as a shining example for a country where efforts in this field often fall short of the mark.
At my request, Father Andrew opened up the doors to the more imposing but less interesting current Archbishop’s palace. We did not wish to disturb the Archbishop, who is now 78 years old and also Vietnam’s one and only cardinal, so I contented myself to viewing the ground floor only. ‘Beyond these doors’, Father Andrew whispered ‘is the apartment for the Papal messenger when he visits.’ We did see the imposing meeting room with fine long wooden table and luxurious glazed wooden chairs. We could not meet the Archbishop himself but there was a handsome bust of his personage on display.
For those with an interest in history, architecture and the religions of Vietnam, a short visit to see the oldest building is worthwhile. It is, as I have indicated, centrally located, not far from major attractions such as the Reunification palace and just around a corner from the War Remnants Museum. Please remember that it is in a busy working area for the Church, so be sure to phone ahead for your viewing. If you are able to, please offer a prayer for the martyrs and be sure to drop a few pence into the collection box in appreciation to St Peter.

By Pip de Rouvray



From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

HCMC Notre Dame

Notre-Dame Saigon

Saigon Notre-Dame Basilica (VietnameseVương cung thánh đường Đức Bà Sài Gòn or Nhà thờ Đức Bà Sài GònFrenchCathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon), officially Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception (VietnameseVương cung thánh đường Chính tòa Đức Mẹ Vô nhiễm Nguyên tội) is a cathedral located in the downtown of Ho Chi Minh CityVietnam. Established by French colonists, the cathedral was constructed between 1863 and 1880. It has two bell towers, reaching a height of 58 meters (190 feet).


HCMC Notre Dame 2


Side view of the basilica.

HCMC Notre Dame 3


Detail of a side of the basilica.

 HCMC Notre Dame 4

Closer view of the facade

 HCMC Notre Dame 5

Main gate of the basilica.

Following the French conquest of Cochinchina and Saigon, the Roman Catholic Church established a community and religious services for French colonialists. The first church was built on today’s Ngo Duc Ke Street. There had been a Vietnamese pagoda, which had been abandoned during the war. Bishop Lefevre decided to make this pagoda a church.


The last church was too small. Thus, in 1863, Admiral Bonard decided to build a wooden church on the bank of Charner canal (Kinh Lớn). Lefevre put the first stone for construction of the church on 28 March 1863. The construction was completed two years later and was called “Saigon Church”. When the wooden church was damaged by termites, all church services were held in the guest-chamber of the French Governor’s Palace. This palace would later be turned into a seminary until the Notre-Dame Cathedral was completed.

After the design competition, bids were accepted for construction. Again, J. Bourard was the successful bidder and became supervisor of constructions.

Originally, there were three proposed sites for construction:

  • On the site of the former test school (today, this is at the corner of Le Duan Boulevard and Hai Ba Trung Street).
  • At Kinh Lon (today it is Nguyễn Huệ Boulevard)
  • At the present site where the cathedral is situated.

All 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.

On 7 October 1877, Bishop Isidore Colombert laid the first stone in an inaugural ceremony. The construction of the cathedral took three years. On Easter Day, 11 April 1880, a blessing ceremony and ceremony of completion were solemnly organized in presence of the Governor of Cochinchina Charles Le Myre de Vilers. One can see the granite plate inside the main entry gate commemorating the start and completion dates and designer. The total cost was 2,500,000 French francs (at that time price). At the beginning, the cathedral was called State Cathedral due to source of the construction cost.

In 1895, 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 the flower garden in front of the cathedral, there was a bronze statue of Pigneau de Behaine (also called Bishop of Adran) leading Prince Cảnh, the son of Emperor Gia Long by his right hand. The statue was made in France. In 1945, the statue was removed, but the foundation remains.

In 1959, Bishop Joseph Pham Van Thien, whose jurisdiction included Saigon parish, attended the Marian Congress held inVatican and ordered a statue of Our Lady of Peace made with granite in Rome. When the statue arrived in Saigon on 16 February 1959, Bishop Pham Van Thien 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.

The Statue’s Tears

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 Marystatue 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.

Status as a Basilica

In 1960, Pope John XXIII erected Roman Catholic dioceses in Vietnam and assigned archbishops to HanoiHuế 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.

Special characteristics

All the original building materials were imported from France. Tiles have been carved with the words Guichard Carvin, Marseille St André France (perhaps stating the locality where the tiles were produced). Some tiles are carved with the words “Wang-Tai Saigon”. Many tiles have since been made in Ho Chi Minh City to replace the tiles that were damaged by the war. There are 56 glass squares supplied by the Lorin firm of Chartres province in France. The cathedral foundation was designed to bear ten times the weight of the cathedral.

See also