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Notre Dame Cathedral (Nha Tho Duc Ba)

Notre-Dame, with official name the Notre-Dame basilica-cathedral of Saigon, is the largest church and the most particular in Ho Chi Minh City with two 60 meters high bell-towers, located at the city center (No 1 Paris Commune square, 1st district). It is one of the particular religious monuments which attract visitors the best in city.

After the invasion of Vietnam, the French colonists established a church for the religious offices. The first church was built in street 5 (currently Ngo Đuc Ke street). It was a pagoda given up by Vietnamese during the war. Bishop Lefebvre transformed this pagoda into a church. But this one was too small, and in 1863, admiral Bonard decided to build a wooden church on the bank of Charner channel (Kinh Lon). Bishop Lefebvre posed the first stone on March 28th, 1863. Construction touched its term in 1865 and the building was called Saigon church.

In August 1876, the French Cochinchine's governor Dupre organized a contest to determine the structure of the Notre-Dame cathedral. The objective was double: to provide to the colonial missions a place of worship, but also to show to Vietnamese people the force, by the architecture, and French civilization. The project of architect J. Bourad was selected by the contest organizers among the 17 advanced proposals. The cathedral by J. Bourad was revised the Romance mixed with Gothic style. The construction of the cathedral lasted 3 years since 1877 to 1880.

In 1895, two bell-towers were added to the cathedral, each one high 57.6 meters including 6 bronze bells for a total weight of 28.85 tons. The crosses were installed in top of each tower; they are 3.5 meters high, 2 meters broad, for 600 kilograms. The religious building measures then 60.5 meters.

In 1903, in the flowered garden in front of the cathedral, there was a bronze statue of Pigneau de Béhaine (also called bishop of Adran) who was directing prince Canh (son of Gia Long) to raise the great merits of France for Vietnam. The statue was manufactured in France. In 1945, the statue was loosened, but by preserving the foundations.

In 1959, the priest Joseph Pham Van Thien (bishop of Phu Cuong diocese afterwards and dead), whose the jurisdiction extended to Saigon parish attended the "Holy Mère" seminar in the Vatican and ordered a peaceful statue of Notre-Dame carved of the granite in Rome. When the statue arrived in Saigon on February 16, 1959, priest Pham Van Thien held a ceremony to seal the statue on the free foundations left in 1945 and honored it with the title of Regina Pacis (Queen of peace). It is priest Pham Van Thien in person who wrote on the stele the prayers "Notre-Dame blesses peace to Vietnam ". The next day, Aganianian cardinal came from Rome to chair the closing ceremony of the Notre-Dame congress and chaired solemnly the inauguration ceremony of the statue, the cathedral is called Notre-Dame from then.

In 1962, Vatican anointed the cathedral as a chief of Saigon, conferring to it the properties of a basilica. Consequently, this cathedral was called the Notre-Dame Basilica-Cathedral of Saigon.

Characteristics of architecture

The external wall of the cathedral was built with bricks from Marseilles, although they are not coated, these bricks still preserve their bright red color. The church on the whole has 56 squares of stained glasses manufactured by Lorin from Chartres province (France). The underpinning is drawn up particularly to support ten times more of the church's weight. And it is special that the cathedral does not have any fence like the other churches in Saigon - Gia Dinh formerly and now.

The interior of the cathedral is built with a principal space, two subordinated and two vaults. The church is 133 meters long on the whole, 35 meters wide with the pavements, 21 meters high. The cathedral's capacity is about 1.200 people. In the church, two rows of six right-angled pillars symbolize the twelve apostles. Behind the principal pillars, there are the corridors with wall cupboards containing the furnace bridges (there is more than twenty) and the small statues of saints in cut stone. The principal furnace bridge is made of marble block with the reliefs of six angels supporting the table; the pedestal is divided into three parts which are really sculpture works. On the walls, the 56 squares of stained glass represent characters or events in the Bible, 31 images of the round roses, 25 small windows of stained glass with very beautiful images. All the linear and features follow well the rules of Romaine and Gothic architecture to raise the crowned elegance. However, just two among these 56 stained glasses remain still intact like formerly.

All above the principal door, it is "the floor" with one of two oldest organs in Vietnam. This organ is manufactured by the foreign experts, particularly for this cathedral so its volume is, neither too low nor high, suitable with this church. At the beginning, two bell-towers are of 36,6 meters and do not have a roof but a narrow staircase of 40 cm. There are on the whole six large bells of six tons (sol, la, si, do, ré, mi) and of 28,85 tons heavy, hung in these two bell-towers. These bells were manufactured in France and imported in Saigon in 1879. Four bells (sol, si, ré, mi) are hung in the right bell-tower; two others (la, do) in the left one. The bells' surface appears the very delicate ornaments. The three largest bells are the si of 3.150 kg, the ré of 2.194 kg and especially the sol, one of the largest bells of the world, of 8.785 kg, whose the mouth of 2.25 meters in diameter, 3.5 meters high (including the ear). This bell resounds only once a year at the Christmas time.

The clock under the vault, at 15 meters from the ground, in the center of two bell-towers, was manufactured in Switzerland in 1887, of R.A mark, 2.5 meters high, 3 meters long, more than one meter broad and more than one ton heavy, placed on a brick pedestal. Although rudimentary and old, it still works properly.

In front of the cathedral, it is a park with four roads which form a cross. In the center of the park, there is the statue of the Virgin of Peace (or the Queen of Peace). The statue was carved by G. Ciocchetti in 1959. The sculptor's name was registered on the left side of the dress. The 4.6 meters high statue, of 5.8 meters heavy in white marble of Italy was carved for contemplation by far and was thus not polished. It remains thus still everywhere on the body and even on the face of the statue the rough sculptures. The statue of Mother is upright with the hands holding the terrestrial sphere on which a cross is drawn up; the meditative eyes of Mother fix on the sky even if to pray for Vietnam and the world. Her foot presses on a snake's head (whose currently the superior jaw was already broken). On the stone pedestal, on the front face statue, they fix a bronze table with the Latin sentence: REGINA PACIS - ORA PRONOBIS - XVII. II. MCMLIX (Queen of Peace - Pray for us - 17/02/1959). Between the pedestal and the feet of Mother, they bore a hole to install a silver box which contains prayers for the peace of Vietnam and the world. These prayers are written on the sheets of gold, money, tin, aluminum, paper, bronze and leather sent from several regions of Vietnam.


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