Location: Phat Diem Cathedral is in Luu
Phuong Commune, Phat Diem Town, Kim Son District, 130km south of Hanoi, and 28km
southeast of Ninh Binh Town.
Characteristics: Phat Diem Cathedral is the center of Catholicism in
north Vietnam and also a tourist site attracting foreign and domestic visitors
Phat Diem Cathedral was built between 1875 and 1899 four roofs and six sets of
iron wooden pillars and consists of a network of ponds, lakes, churches, and
Phuong Dinh Church, part of the Phat Diem complex, is a giant building entirely
made of stone. Numerous stone sculptures are on the inside and outside walls. A
large bell cast in the 1890s weighing nearly 2 tons is found in the bell tower.
On both sides of the church are four smaller churches of different styles. On
the extreme north corner are three stone caves. The most beautiful of these
caves is Lo Duc Grotto. In the area surrounding this massive stone and wood
cathedral, the rice paddies are peppered with stone churches. But, unlike these
structures, built by Europeans and resembling typical churches of the era, Phat
Diem Cathedral was designed by a Vietnamese priest, known as Father Sau. Father
Sau rallied the local population to build the cathedral, five side chapels,
three artificial grottoes, an artificial lake and a bell tower. Phat Diem
Cathedral seems to have changed very little since Graham Greene described its
gigantic pillars formed out of single trees and the scarlet lacquer work of the
altar. Indeed, with its multi tiered, curling roofs and its 48 lime-wood columns
- (the largest of which weigh seven tones), Phat Diem is a far cry from a
European cathedral. Stone relief angels overlook carved dragons and the
cathedral's two-tone bell is accompanied by a giant brass gong.
Local Catholics view the cathedral's survival as almost miraculous; a bombing in
1972 flattened two of the side chapels and caused the cathedral to lean by some
20 degrees. Despite the ongoing war, restoration started immediately and today,
the only obvious trace of the bombing is the destruction of some intricate stone
carvings. And on Christmas Eve, an unforgettable midnight mass, attended by
thousands and accompanied by a brass band, is held in the cathedral grounds.