Hanoi Main Cathedral
The ancient beauty standing in the heart of the Capital
Bearing in itself the ancient unique French architecture, Hanoi Main Cathedral has always been an ideal and attractive destination for tourists from all over the world to visit. For the Catholics, the cathedral is a sacred hall for attending religious ceremonies and praying. Always being on the top list of the most ancient, distinctive and irresistibly beautiful cathedrals, Hanoi Main Cathedral has become an architectural and religious symbol of Hanoians for thousands of years.
Find the historical origins of Hanoi Main Cathedral
Hanoi Main Cathedral, also known under the official name of “St. Joseph’s Cathedral”, is the main cathedral of Hanoi Archdiocese. The Cathedral is one of the earliest Christian buildings built in Hanoi and is also one of the most beautiful church architecture.
The land where the cathedral is located today once belonged to a pagoda named Bao Thien – a famous pagoda built in the Ly Dynasty, under King Ly Thanh Tong’s reign in 1057. During the Ly-Tran dynasties for nearly 400 years, Bao Thien Pagoda gained its popularity as the Buddhist center of the capital of Dai Viet. At the beginning of the 15th century, Bao Thien Pagoda was heavily destroyed by the Minh armies, resulting in many lost and damaged invaluable treasures. Among them are Bao Thien tower, which is considered one of 4 treasures of the South.
Restored under the Le Dynasty, the pagoda suffered a great fire at the end of the 18th century, so the monks moved to another place. Thus, the temple became abandoned. In 1873, after the French invasion of Hanoi for the first time, the area of Bao Thien pagoda was handed over to the Bishop Puginier by the French. The bishop had temporarily set up several wooden houses to stay and work on the area belonged to the old pagoda. In 1882, the French troops occupied Hanoi for the second time. By 1883, at the request of the Tonkin Governor Raoul Bonnal, the governor-general Nguyen Huu Do entrusted this old pagoda to Bishop Puginier to construct the main cathedral of Hanoi as we see today.
The cathedral was built by the Catholic Church to replace the old wooden architecture on the old pagoda, between 1884 and 1886, in the context of Hanoi’s transformation into a new Western-style urban. The capital for building Hanoi Main Cathedral came from the 2 rounds of the lottery and other mobilization sources. The construction was inaugurated at Christmas in 1887. By the time the cathedral was finished constructing, the place still remained deserted. It was not until 1890 that people built the Cathedral Street that the cathedral had a favourable and important position in the urban space.
Immerse in the unique architectural style of Hanoi Main Cathedral
Hanoi Main Cathedral is designed in European medieval Gothic architectural style. This was a very popular architectural style in the 12th century in the Renaissance in Europe. In overall, the Cathedral is similar to the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, a Catholic church typical of Gothic architecture in France.
The main materials used to build these churches are earthen bricks and mulch paper. The church has a height of 64.5m, a width of 20.5m, with 2 high 31.5m bell towers that are paired with big stone pillars at four corners. At the top of the cathedral is a stone crucifix, below which is a clock and a holy statue, creating an impressive highlight for its architecture. Looking from outside, the church brings out a very ancient beauty with layers of coloured lime, tile roofs covered with moss. However, when going through the big door to enter the cathedral, the magnificent, splendid and breathtaking architecture will take visitors’ breath away.
The church is divided into 3 spaces: a reception hall – a place for choirs and musicians, a ceremony hall and a sanctuary for the ritual practices. Right inside the cathedral lies three tombs of Cardinal Trinh Nhu Khue, Pham Dinh Tung and Trinh Van Can. At the same time, presenting in that space is the statue of Our Lady extending her arms to embrace her children, bringing a feeling of warmth and closeness.
The sanctuary of the cathedral is decorated in a traditional, simple and eye-catching folk art. In the middle of the sanctuary there is a statue of Joseph holding Jesus and around are the altar of the Our Mother and many other holy statues. Beneath the cathedral is long benches and kneeling tables to serve the parishioners during the ritual practices. With ample space, the Hanoi Main Cathedral has the ability to accommodate up to thousands of people. On major occasions such as Christmas, the Cathedral attracts a great number of parishioners and visitors.
There is a big door and two small side doors at the towers of the Cathedral to make it more convenient for tourists and parishioners. The doors and the entire windows in the church are all sharpened by Gothiqueart and inside them are beautiful stained glass paintings of Saints. Moreover, the church also has a valuable set of Western bells (about 20,000 French francs of that time), including four small bells and a large bell.
Next to it is a large clock attached to the facade of the church. The clock has an engraved alarm, an hourly alarm, and the alarm system is linked to the 5 bells hanging on the tower. Church bells are used to inform Christians about a specific religious activity such as the time of the initiation, baptism, marriage or someone who has just lost, etc. Unlike the sound and the way the pagoda’s bells ring, the cathedral’s bells have a fast and slow beat depending on the purpose of different announcements.
Outside the church is a small square, where the statue of Mary is made of metal. Beneath the statue of the Blessed Mother, there is an incense burner for people to light incense and pray, surrounded by many green pots. The fence around the monument impresses onlookers by the Catholicism features with patterns created from the shape of the cross.
Join activities at the Hanoi Main Cathedral
On weekdays, the church has 2 Masses on Saturday and 7 Masses on Sundays. Every year on March 19, this place will hold the procession of the holy master of Hanoi Archdiocese. The neighbourhood around the church often hears music ringing in the ceremonial days along with prayers. At the same time, the sin’s absolution for the congregation is also held here. The atmosphere is more bustling when comes the time of Christmas and Easter holidays.
What to enjoy around Hanoi Main Cathedral?
The cathedral has drawn a huge attraction of both domestic and international tourists, especially on Christmas Day. On this special celebration, the church becomes even more sparkling and magical with colourful lights and typical Christmassy decorations, bringing a warm and exciting atmosphere to the crowds.
The area around the cathedral is famous for a “speciality” of Hanoi, which is “iced lemon tea”. Although space for enjoying a cup of lemon tea is only plastic chairs, the number of young people gathering here is increasing day by day. The teacup smelled of jasmine, along with the sweet and sour taste of lemon slices, has become a familiar drink and a pleasure of Hanoians. Taking a sip of the tea, sitting with friends around a plate of sunflower seeds, or simply looking toward the church, tourists are able to feel how relaxing and comfortable the life can be.
When arriving in the land of a thousand-year-old capital, tourists should not miss the opportunity to admire and discover the spectacular and memorable architecture of Hanoi Main Cathedral. No matter how many ups and downs of history as well as the erosion of time, the cathedral still stands proudly, becoming a beautiful symbol of Hanoi for centuries.