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Asian Catholic Directory

Vietnam’s Phat Diem Cathedral resembles a Buddhist pagoda

Diocese of Phat Diem Vietnam’s Phat Diem Cathedral resembles a Buddhist pagoda

Queen of the Rosary Cathedral in Phat Diem is a testimony of faith and evangelization of a French missionary priest who combined Vietnamese and Gothic styles to establish a church that looks like a Buddhist pagoda.

Father Peter Tran Luc was born in a Buddhist family but became a Catholic in Phat Diem Diocese, a Catholic stronghold in northern Vietnam.

Phat Diem Cathedral stands at Kim Son region about 117 kilometers from capital Hanoi as a historic landmark of Catholicism. Built in between 1875 to 1899 under the leadership of Father Peter Tran Luc, the cathedral is a ten-building complex with a spectacular combination of water, stone, and wood. Historic records say a million tons of ironwood and limestone were sourced from neighboring provinces for the cathedralusing buffaloes and elephants.

Side view of the Cathedral

The church survived French canon fire in 1952 and American bombing in 1972 with minor damages.

Father Peter was popularly known as Father Sau (Father Six) in Vietnamese whose special devotion to Mother Mary prompted his desire to dedicate a church. In the mid-19th century, the priest was detained and imprisoned when Emperor Tu Duc banned Catholicism in the country. The ban was in retaliation for French colonial invasion in Vietnam. The priest was released after the ban was lifted. Father Six had never been to Europe and he combined ideas from his past and present faith to design and set up the unique cathedral.

He died in the same year the cathedral was completed and blessed. To pay tribute to his outstanding spiritual and pastoral care for local Catholics, he was buried in the front yard of the church.

Phat Diem Cathedral also declares the original roots of Catholicism in the region in the 16th century with the arrival of the Portuguese. In the next century, prominent Avignonese Jesuit Alexandre de Rhodes fortified Catholicism in Phat Diem and other regions in northern Vietnam. Besides his missionary efforts, Father Rhodes also studied Vietnamese language, scripting it with Roman alphabets.

Square Hall, the bell tower

The cathedral has three entrances and three tiers that make up the tower. The number “three” has significant meaning in Asian cultures, representing heaven, earth, and man. In Christianity, it symbolizes Holy Trinity. The square bell tower has a Vietnamese temple flag fluttering on the top and below is a two-ton bronze bell cast in 1892. Five chapels in the cathedral are Chapel of the Last Supper, Chapel of St. Roch, Chapel of the Sacred Heart, Chapel of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, and Chapel of St. Peter.

The cathedral welcomes visitors with a large statue of Christ the King besides the several artistic stone reliefs and other architectural pieces, such as paintings of Catholic iconography and Eastern religious symbols like dragons, unicorns, tortoises, and phoenixes.

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