Bui Chu Cathedral, one of Vietnam’s oldest churches, will be replaced by a larger church on the same site. (Photo supplied)
The oldest diocese in northern Vietnam has started demolition of its 19th century cathedral, which is in a ramshackle condition despite public calls to conserve the iconic building.
A priest from Bui Chu Diocese told UCA News that on July 17 workers started to remove the floor and roof tiles from Bui Chu Cathedral, one of Vietnam’s oldest churches, preparing for a new one.
The church site in Nam Dinh province’s Xuan Truong district is surrounded by an iron-sheet fence, so few people can approach it. The demolition is expected to be completed in August.
The priest, who wished to remain anonymous, said the diocese made no public announcement of the 135-year-old cathedral’s demolition for fear that negative responses would prevent the old church from being pulled down and the construction of a new one.
In May 2019, 25 architects petitioned Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Nguyen Ngoc Thien and local authorities to conserve the Baroque-style church after Bishop Thomas Aquinas Vu Dinh Hieu of Bui Chu announced a plan to knock it down.
After that, vicar general Father Joseph Nguyen Duc Giang, head of the diocese’s construction board, had to cancel the plan to demolish the church.
Church leaders and architects could not reach an agreement on how to save the old church, which was built in 1885 by Spanish Bishop Wenceslao Onate.
In February, the diocese resumed demolishing the building by removing furnishings but failed to pull it down due to the Covid-19 outbreak.
Local Catholics are attending daily services at a nearby house while waiting for the new church to be constructed.
Sister Theophane Doan Thi Chuyen of the Daughters of Our Lady of the Rosary told UCA News that the 1,088-square-meter church, which was restored in 1974 and 2000, is in a dilapidated condition and flooded in the rainy season, posing a danger to Massgoers.
“It is right to build a new cathedral to replace the old one to ensure the safety of the crowds of people who attend services,” Sister Chuyen said.
The new church will be built on the same foundation as the old but cover a larger area. The ceiling will be made of wood and in the same style as traditional houses.
Carpenters have been making big wooden columns and structures with traditional patterns of the new church for years.
“I could understand what happens with the cathedral but I still feel very discouraged,” Martin Rama, who launched a campaign to save the country’s only Baroque-style cathedral, told state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper.
Catholicism was introduced to the area now served by Bui Chu Diocese as early as 1533 by foreign missionaries. The diocese, Vietnam’s cradle of Catholic culture and traditions, is rich in religious sites and vintage churches with Gothic, Spanish, French and Vietnamese architectural influences. It serves 412,000 Catholics in Nam Dinh province.