1. Overview of the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral
Ho Chi Minh City is not only a financial hub of Vietnam but also retains many historical constructions. One of the most popular relics here is the Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica (Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception). The Cathedral follows French classical architecture with sophisticated details. Therefore, the construction becomes the most outstanding architectural work in the city. Besides, the cathedral is also the official religious center for Catholics to practice their religion.
Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral is located right in the heart of Ho Chi Minh city. The address is No.1 Cong Xa Paris Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh city.
Tourists can get there by taxi or motorbike. There are also many nearby parking areas for drivers. For those who use public transportation, you can take bus numbers 04, 120, 18, 30, 31, 36, and 93 to visit the church.
Opening and closing hours
- Because of its popularity, Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral opens from 8 am to 11 am and 2 pm to 4 pm every day.
For those who would like to listen to the Mass:
- Weekday Mass: 5:30 AM and 5:30 PM
- Every Sunday Mass: 5.30 AM; 6.45 AM; 8 AM; 9.30 AM (English Mass); 4.00 PM; 5.30 PM; 6.30 PM
- Visitors don’t need to pay entrance fees to visit the church.
2. Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral through history.
In the 19th century, when the French conquered Vietnam, they ordered to building a large church. The church served as a place of worship and organization of communal activities for them. In 1863, they started the construction on the bank of the Charner Canal (Kinh Lon). After two years, the wooden building was completed and named “Saigon Church.” However, termites and insects quickly destroyed this building.
Thus, in 1977, they rebuilt the church by using materials imported from France. J. Bourard, an excellent architect, won the design competition for creating a new Saigon church. It took three years to complete the building with a budget of 2,500,000 French francs from the French Cochinchine government. Then, people called the church “the State Cathedral”.
There used to be a bronze statue of Pigneau de Behaine (also called Bishop of Adran) leading Prince Cảnh, the son of Emperor Gia Long in the flower garden of the cathedral. However, in 1945, the government removed the stature but remained the foundation.
In 1959, Bishop Joseph Pham Van Thien imported a granite statue of Our Lady of Peace in Rome and placed it on the pedestal. Then, the cathedral was renamed “Notre Dame Cathedral” in the statue ceremony. Then, Pope John XXIII – The sovereign of the Vatican City State set up the Roman Catholic dioceses in Vietnam. In 1960, he named the church “Saigon Chief Cathedral. Two years later, he organized an anointing ceremony to confer the Basilica status for the Saigon cathedral. Since then, the cathedral has had its official name, “Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon”.
The cathedral underwent many centuries of construction and renovation and witnessed the turbulent history of Ho Chi Minh city. Today, people acknowledge it as a symbol of urban architecture and a religious hub. The 142-year-old church plays a vital role for nearly 6.2 million Catholics in Saigon and is an impressive relic. Ho Chi Minh City Archdiocese is currently conducting an expansion renovation project for the cathedral. The project will last from 2017 to 2023 and has a budget of USD 6 million.
3. The architecture of Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral
The front campus
In front of the cathedral is a small park surrounded by decorative plans and four pathways to create a cross. In the middle of the park, there is a statue of the Virgin Mary (also called Our Lady of Peace) brought here in 1959. The statue is 4.6 meters tall and 8 tons in weight. The artisan G. Cicchetti used Italian white granite to carve it. The Lady is standing upright and holding a globe with a cross inside. She is looking up at the sky with her contemplative eyes as she is praying for peace for the Vietnamese and people all over the world.
The building materials were imported from France to maintain the resistance of the structure. Also, the tiles for the roof are Marseille bricks and the stained glasses from the Lorin firm of Chartres. Noticeably, the exterior was tiled with Toulouse bricks without coated concrete but they can maintain their bright red color for a long time and prevent moss to destroy the building.
Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica Saigon follows a unique Romanesque and Gothic design so it has solemn and elegant beauty. The twin bell towers, ornate stained-glass windows, and a red-brick facade create a magnificent image of this church. In addition, the landmark is 93 meters long and 35 meters wide with a high dome. The church’s foundation is so solid that it can stand ten times the weight of the whole structure. Because of its outstanding architecture, it has no surrounding fences. Thus, every tourist can admire its beauty from 10 km.
The Basilica of the cathedral is spacious, having a capacity of 1,200 people. The interior includes the chapel range, the main altar in the center, and two sub-sacred spaces. Additionally, the main altar depicts six angels carved from monolithic marble and other relic sculptures.
The designer uses 56 circular windows from stained glasses to embellish the walls. These glasses show different scenes from the Bible, scripture lessons, and rose pictures. The natural light from the glass windows will focus on the portrait of Jesus Christ at the main altar. The sophisticated pattern in the ceiling and classical white columns bring visitors a sense of dignity and sacredness.
The Bell Towers
One of the features of the church is the twin Bell Towers with 36.6 meters high. Then, they installed the crosses on top of each tower of 3.5 m high, 2 m wide, and 600 kg in weight. As a result, the total height of the cathedral is 60.5 m.
These towers store six bronze bells made in France and shipped to Saigon in 1879. The priests will ring all six bells at the same time on special occasions. Local people can hear the sounds of the bells from a far distance.
The clock between the twin towers is large and weighs 1 ton, imported from Switzerland in 1887. This clock demonstrates its premium quality by working perfectly after 135 years while holding a record of being the oldest clock in the city.
Many reputable traveling websites call it a masterpiece and a must-see destination in Ho Chi Minh city. In 2020, Business Insider’s American news site listed The Notre Dame Cathedral in the top 15 of the world’s most beautiful cathedrals. Previously, the cathedral gained attention by appearing in the headlines of the Wall Street Journal on November 2005.
4. What to do when visiting the cathedral.
Many visitors enjoy admiring its exterior and interior structure of it. Other visitors can enjoy ground coffee right under the shade of the trees while looking at the ancient work. Another interesting activity is feeding the pigeons. Because of the peace and tranquility of the Notre Dame Cathedral, many pigeons migrated here to live. Until now, the flock of pigeons has gathered around the Notre Dame Cathedral for more than 10 years. Playing with these lovely creatures is also an unforgettable experience for visitors.
5. Some places of interest near the Notre-Dame Cathedral
- Because of its location, the Saigon Note-Dame Cathedral is near many attractive destinations in Ho Chi Minh City that visitors should not miss.
Here is the list of these places of interest:
- Independence Palace
- Saigon Central Post Office
- Nguyen Van Binh Book Street
- Ho Chi Minh City Opera House
- War Remnants Museum
- Nguyen Hue Walking Street
- Bui Vien Walking Street
- Ben Thanh Market