Phat Diem Cathedral is a spiritual address in Ninh Binh province, dubbed as the Catholic capital of Vietnam. With an age of more than 120 years, this old stone church has a different architecture compared to other churches in the country. So what is unique about this project that attracts so many people to visit? Let's explore Phat Diem stone church in Ninh Binh right here:
I - Find out more about Phat Diem Cathedral
Phat Diem stone church in the past - Source: Thánh Đường Việt Nam
1 - History of Phat Diem Church Ninh Binh
In 1828, the famous poet Nguyen Cong Tru, also a talented mandarin, was sent by the Hue court to the North to explore new lands. He established Tien Hai district in Thai Binh Province and Kim Son district in Ninh Binh Province, with the latter being where the Phat Diem stone church complex currently resides. Built from 1875 to 1899, this architecture was presided over by Father Peter Tran Luc, also known as Uncle Sau (1825 - 1899). At that time, he had been a priest of the Diocese of West Tonkin since 1865, and a local community leader for more than 20 years.
2 - Unique architecture Phat Diem Cathedral
Phat Diem is a Catholic church complex of about 22ha, including a large church and 5 smaller churches, one of which is built entirely of natural stone. There are also a few auxiliary works such as a communal hall, a pond and 3 artificial rock caves, arranged in oriental landscape style: a lake in front and mountains behind. Although being a Catholic church, it is modeled after the temples and pagodas of Vietnam, with countless curved roofs shaped like the bow of a boat. That expresses solidarity, harmony and integration of Catholicism with traditional Eastern values.
Phat Diem Cathedral was also built entirely of stone and ironwood obtained from many parts of the country, like wood was taken from regions such as Nghe An, Thanh Hoa, Son Tay, and so on. Most of the stones were brought from Thien Duong mountain (30km from Phat Diem), while more precious stones were taken from Nhoi mountain near Thanh Hoa province (60km away). There were logs, trees weighing up to 7 tons, and slabs of stone weighing up to 20 tons, which were transported to the construction site by primitive means at the end of the 19th century.
Phat Diem Cathedral has many finely carved details, surrounded with countless familiar images taken from the Vietnamese countryside and even Buddhism, such as dragon, qilin, turtle, phoenix, conifer, bamboo or lotus, etc. There are also bas-reliefs skillfully carved from monolithic greenstone by the hands of leading artisans at the time, simulating stories told according to the Bible of the Catholics. Visiting the church, you will first encounter a rectangular pond surrounded by rocks with an area of about 4ha, in the middle of which is a small island with a statue of Jesus.
Source: Bao to quoc
Next in Phat Diem Cathedral is Phuong Dinh (lit. square house), a massive stone structure in the shape of a village communal house with a width of 24m, a height of 25m and a length of 17m. This work has a total of 3 floors, with the bottom and largest built with a very high degree of precision, using green slate that each weigh thousands of pounds. In the middle of the communal house is an ancient monolithic stone bed, outside and inside are stone reliefs carved with beautiful images of Jesus and saints with elegant lines. The arches are also assembled with exquisite stone.
This is the place to store 2 ancient items of Phat Diem Cathedral, with a large drum hanging on the second floor. On the third floor is a bell cast in 1890, weighing nearly 2 tons with a height of 1.4m and a diameter of 1.1m. The roof of this work has five arches, four of which located at the corners are lower and the highest arch is in the middle of the third floor. They are not towering like a Western Catholic church, but arching low like the roof of a communal house or temple in Vietnamese villages. The Square House’s two outer walls are composed of bamboo-shaped stone slats, in addition to reliefs depicting the story of Jesus since entering Jerusalem.
Located in the center of Phat Diem Cathedral is a large church, built in a short time of 3 months at the end of 1891, with a length of 74m and a height of 21m. There are 6 rows of ironwood columns, in which the middle two have 16 columns, each of them is made entirely from a tree, 11m high and 2.35m in circumference. The main church has 4 roofs divided into 2 floors interrupted by windows, which take in natural light and create a sharp curve for the roofs. This system represents the delicate combination of two architectural styles: Vietnamese pagodas of the East and Gothic of the West.
The Main Church has a long interior and 5 arch entrances made of marble, which is the common architectural feature of Phat Diem Cathedral complex with other Western churches. The rest of this work is still arranged in the traditional way, divided into 10 compartments, with the ground leveled peak in the middle and lower on the sides. Inside of the church there is a stone slab altar, which is 3m long, 0.9m wide and 0.8m high, carved on three sides with flowers and leaves. There are also painted and gilded wooden worshiping objects, like a traditional worship space of Vietnamese people.
Church of the Heart of Our Lady
Source: @Fb Như Quỳnh
After visiting the Main Church, you can check out the 5 smaller churches in Phat Diem Cathedral, each with its own architectural style. Among them there is one called the Heart of Our Lady, which is also the first built in this cluster of relics, with a length of 15.3m, a width of 8.5m and a height of 6m. This building is known locally as the Stone Church because it is made entirely of this material, from the foundation, columns, beams, walls, to bars, towers, altars and so on. The interior of Phat Diem Cathedral is carved with many beautiful reliefs, with animals such as lions or phoenixes depicted by unusually vivid lines. Especially striking here is the carving of pine, apricot, chrysanthemum, and bamboo, symbolizing the weather and beauty of four seasons in a year.
The remaining four stand independently on both sides of the Main Church, including the Church of the Heart of Jesus (built in 1889), St. Rocco's Church (1895), Joseph's Church (1895) and Saint Peter's Church (1896). At the northern end of Phat Diem Church are three beautiful man-made caves, about 100m apart, made of different sized stone blocks keeping the natural appearance, with large statues on the walls. Among them, Lourdes cave is the most beautiful, Bethlehem cave on Sinh Nhat mountain is the first built (1875) with a very large scale, and the last is So Mountain.
II - Tourist Information about Phat Diem Cathedral
1 - Location of Phat Diem Church
Phat Diem Cathedral in Ninh Binh Province is located in the town of the same name in Dinh Hoa Commune, Kim Son District, about 120km from Hanoi. You can come here by many different means of transportations such as motorbike, car, train, or even bus. If you do not travel by a private vehicle, after coming to Ninh Binh city center, you should call a taxi or rent a motorbike to get there.
2 - Phat Diem Cathedral Vietnam opening hours
- Opening hours: 8:30am - 5:30pm
Mass times of Phat Diem Church
- In summer:
+ Monday - Saturday: 4:45am & 6pm
+ Thursday: 4:45am & 5:30pm
+ Sunday: 5am, 9:30am, 5pm & 7:30pm
+ Holy days: 5am, 9:30am, 6pm & 7:30pm
- In winter:
+ Monday - Friday: 5am & 5:30pm
+ Saturday: 5am & 6pm
+ Sunday & Holy days: 5am, 10am, 4:30pm & 7pm
3 - Big festival at Phat Diem Church
You can visit Phat Diem Cathedral in Ninh Binh at any time, but the most ideal is still around Christmas according to the experiences of local people. This is an important Catholic holiday, also a great community cultural event for the parishioners of this diocese, so many activities are organized. Not to mention, the church is also meticulously decorated on Christmas Eve, with shimmering colorful lights and pine trees, highlighting the cave system and buildings. The magnificent space and the sacred atmosphere make up the attraction for this church during this special time.
4 - Some famous attractions near Phat Diem Church
Bai Dinh Pagoda
About 41km from Phat Diem Cathedral, Bai Dinh is a sacred temple belonging to Trang An scenic complex, located on the mountain of the same name in Gia Sinh commune, Gia Vien district. This temple complex is associated with many historical events of the feudal dynasties, currently holding many records in Asia such as the largest gilded Buddha statue, the tallest Buddha stupa, the 2 largest bells, the longest Arhat Corridor, and so on. Built in 1136, the pagoda still exists after nearly a millennium, representing the enduring vitality of Buddhism in the life of Vietnamese people.
Also part of Bai Dinh - Trang An Scenic Landscape Complex, this is the perfect destination for those who want to explore the beauty of the river. Famous for the name 'Nam Thien De Nhi Dong', Tam Coc Bich Dong possesses a peaceful village scene and an impressive limestone cave system. This area is located in Hoa Lu district, about 30km north of Phat Diem Church, famous for boating activities on Ngo Dong river. The green rice fields on both sides form natural embankments, turning into the golden sparkling color whenever the ripe rice season comes.
It can be seen that the sophistication in the Western church features is harmoniously combined with the traditional Eastern architecture, creating a special attraction for Phat Diem Cathedral. After more than 100 years of existence with impacts from natural disasters and wars, the building is still solid and maintains its beauty to this day. As a representative of the unique style of a period of Vietnam, Phat Diem Church is an attraction that international tourists can miss when coming to Ninh Binh Province.