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Asian Catholic Directory

Vietnamese Cathedral bears testimony to history and heritage

Archdiocese of Ha Noi Vietnamese Cathedral bears testimony to history and heritage

St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Vietnam’s capital Hanoi is a French colonial-era landmark and one of the oldest Christian worship places in the Buddhist-majority nation.

The cathedral is a replica of Notre Dame Cathedral of Paris that also passed through political and social trajectories in the city over the past centuries.

St. Joseph’s church stands on the old quarters of Hanor, dubbed one of the loveliest cities in Asia. The cathedral is dedicated to St. Joseph, the patron saint of Vietnam and the guardian of global Catholic Church.

The Gothic-Revival styled church just outside the French Quarters is flanked by Lake Hoan Kiem on the west. Two 32-meter bell towers welcome visitors with a stone cross on the top and a clock below it.

The mother church of some 480 churches and chapels in Archdiocese of Hanoi, St. Joseph’s cathedral is one the first buildings built by French colonial government. It was consecrated on December 24, 1886.

Just like Catholics in the communist country survived various bouts of persecution, St. Joseph’s Cathedral endured historic events, turmoil and transitions including French colonialism, political unrest, communist uprising, and bombings by the US during the Vietnam War.

The church also enlivens missionary dreams of French Bishop Paul-François Puginier (1835-1892), the apostolic vicar of West Tonkin, a gulf and French protectorate northern Vietnam that became today’s Hanoi. The bishop played an instrumental role in the construction of the cathedral and placing the local church in a strong footing with pastoral and spiritual endeavors.

The cathedral also celebrates the growth of Catholicism in Archdiocese of Hanoi, which boosts more than 400,000 Catholics today.Hanoi Archdiocese is famed as the cradle of Catholicism in North Vietnam.

The long journey has also been turbulent that disrupted life of faith for the local church.

In 1954, when the Viet Kong captured North Vietnam, Catholic leaders and institutions faced repression. Consequently, St. Joseph’s Cathedral was closed for decades. Historians say the persecution was an act of revenge for suppression of Buddhism by French colonialists who had close ties with Christian missionaries.

Since 1975, when Hanoi became the capital of unified Vietnam, Church leaders appealed the government many times unsuccessfully to allow for resuming services. Finally, in 1990, the permission was granted, and church came to life as local Catholics started flocking to the cathedral.

Every Sunday, the cathedral holds several Masses to accommodate overflowing number of devotees.

This old church has gathered moss and its exterior walls made of brick and plaster have paled over the years, but it is one of the most visited landmarks in Hanoi. Couples, both Christians and non-Christians often choose the cathedral for photo snapping, and students hop in to capture photos for their yearbooks.

The street leading to the cathedral is a popular hangout place where visitors can enjoy street food, famed lemon tea and iconic egg coffee. Under a green canopy on the pavement, one can relish a cup of lemon tea, chat with friends and enjoy the mesmerizing beauty of St. Joseph’s Cathedral.

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