Keeper of Oriental, Occidental Architectural Cultures and Arts

5:01:34 PM | 10/15/2015

Located on a campus of nearly 22 hectares in Kim Son district, the Phat Diem Cathedral is a favourite stopping point for travellers when they visit Ninh Binh province. The cathedral was built in the 19th century with a harmonious mixture of Oriental and Occidental architectural cultures and arts.
Travelling 40 km from Ninh Binh City, the capital of Ninh Binh province, you will see more than 10 churches in Kim Son parish before you reach Phat Diem Cathedral. But, only Phat Diem Cathedral has a unique idiosyncratic architecture. The stone cathedral was built by Patriarch Peter Tran Luc, also called Lord Sau, in 34 years (1865-1989). He led the construction from small items to gradually form a big complex with a unique architecture as you can see it today. A big church and five smaller churches surround a house, a pond and three artificial mountains, called Lo Duc, Sinh Nhat and So. This is a group of buildings in the Gothic architectural style of the West with the East of the Vietnamese church.
The cathedral is oriented toward a lake, called Ao Ho, to the south where there is a small island where a statue of Jesus stands with outstretched hands. Behind the lake is the House of Phuong Dinh, made from rock, with curved like those of a Vietnamese pagoda roofs. Ao Ho and Phuong Dinh are surrounded by ancient trees, a sight usually seen in Vietnamese countryside: Ancient tree, a pond and a communal house. Phuong Dinh is a three-story building made of great blue rocks and in each there is a bed of stone whose dome symbolises the sky. Ms Do Ngoc Anh, a tour guide, introduced “The dome represents the sky and the rock piece below symbolises the earth under the concept of oriental on earth and the sky, yin and yang. The second floor of Phuong Dinh hangs a big drum and the third floor hangs a bell of l.4 metres high and about 2,000 kilograms in weight, cast and installed in l890. This bell is struck with a mallet and its sound may be heard at a distance of l0 km.”
The Great Cathedral, the heart of the Phat Diem church complex, was built in l89l under the name of Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. Inside the Great Cathedral have 52 stone pillars in six rows, dividing the oratorio in nine rooms. Here, you also see the cultural exchange between the East and the West through the column layout, harmonious and subtle rods and sculptures.
Another construction considered precious pearl is the Basilica of the Heart of the Mother, also made of stone. The church was built with bluestone taken from Nhoi Mountain in Thanh Hoa province. The outer has two towers, similar to the Tower of Pen on the bank of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi, the capital of Vietnam. The only difference is that the pen is replaced with the cross. The tower at the centre is carved with the heart pierced by a symbol for Immaculate Heart of Mary.
At Phat Diem Cathedral, the Sacrament takes place in the main cathedral while four surrounding chapels worship saints but they also help exalt the grandeur of the place of worship. The chapel of Sacred Heart of Jesus is made entirely from hardwood, built in 1899. This place highlights wooden art architectural and sculptural arts of thousands of years of Vietnamese culture. Sculptured flowers, trees and winding clouds carry the majesty of Dinh and Le royal palaces.
Currently, the Phat Diem Cathedral is not only a place of prayer of the faithful for parishioners but also an exciting destination for visitors and researchers. Dustin, a Canadian tourist, said, “How wonderful. This is the first time I see such a unique church. I am amazed that this Catholic work was built in the nineteenth century. The cathedral is totally different from what I have seen because it carries Vietnamese characteristics. The combination of stone and wood, between the East and the West is perfectly reflected in every detail. It is very interesting.”
On the outside, time has left impact on church walls with gray moss, but the great columns and solid prints still retain the subtlety of the hands of talented Vietnamese artisans. Furthermore, behind every relief or sculptural work is blue stone blocks hiding secrets waiting for domestic and foreign to explore.
Giang Tu