Located at 1 Cong Xa Paris, District 1, Notre Dame Cathedral, the main church in the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, is one of the largest and oldest Catholic churches in Vietnam. Besides Catholics coming to attend the weekly mass at the church, many people also visit to admire its ancient beauty and elegant structures.
Catholicism in Vietnam
From the end of the 16th century, the Vietnamese started trading business with some foreigners from the West. Some of the Catholic missionaries also joined the group in Vietnam to spread Catholicism to the Vietnamese. At first, the Catholic missionary work faced many difficulties because the Vietnamese kings were against the religion, and thus limited its popularity. Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral along with other churches like Hanoi Cathedral and St. Joseph Cathedral was built in the 19th century when Catholicism was most supported by the French. After many political changes in history, Catholicism in Vietnam has developed, and there are about 6.5 million Catholic followers and 26 dioceses in Vietnam in 2016.
A Brief History of Notre Dame Cathedral
After the French soldiers had taken control of Saigon, Catholic missionary work received much support, and they started to build churches to organize special occasions for those who follow Catholicism. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a modification of Saigon Church, which was rebuilt from a small abandoned pagoda in another location in Saigon. After the wooden Saigon Church was damaged by termites, they decided to build a new one. The design of the French architect J. Bourard was chosen to construct the new church at its present site.
The price of building materials and other sponsors from the government was about FRF 2,500,000 at that time. At first, the name of the church was National French Church because the French paid most of the building fees of the church but later changed to Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception. It took them only 3 years to complete it. On Easter in 1880, the church’s opening inauguration took place, and the locals were allowed to attend daily mass.
The Notre Dame Cathedral’s Architecture
Most building materials such as cement and stained glass were imported from France to construct the church, especially the red bricks from Marseille. The quality of these materials has been proven by the long last beauty and firm structure of Notre Dame Cathedral until today.
The interior was designed to celebrate events for 1,200 people, the length of the cathedral is 93 meters, the width is 35 meters, and the height of the proof is about 21 meters. There are three areas inside the church: the nave in the middle, two aisles on both sides, and the chapels. There are small altars with statuses in the chapels, and the main altar was made of marble and sculpted with sophisticated patterns. There are also a lot of beautiful sculptures of characters and events in the Bible. And one of the most impressive beauties of the church is the assembly of 52 magnificent stained glass windows and gorgeous pictures.
Between the bell towers, there is a clock made in Switzerland in 1887. It looks like a small window from afar, but its system is very complicated inside. Inside the two bell towers at the top of the church, there is a system of six bells chiming different sounds, which were produced in France and imported to Vietnam in 1879, and it was not until 1895 that two tented roofs were added to the bell towers.
Statue of Our Lady of Peace in Notre Dame Cathedral
In the garden in front of the cathedral, at first, the French placed bronze statues of diocesan Pigneau de Béhaine, who devoted most of his life to spreading Catholicism in Vietnam, and Prince Canh, the son of Gia Long King. In 1945, these sculptures were removed by the people who are against French colonization. In 1959, the Vietnamese priest Pham Van Thien decided to order the statue of Our Lady of Peace made of white marble stones from abroad to replace the old ones. And since then, people in Saigon started to call the church “Notre Dame Cathedral” (Nha tho Duc Ba).
Statues of Diocesan Pigneau de Béhaine and Prince Canh
Statue of Our Lady of Peace
Notre Dame Cathedral Mass Schedule
From Monday to Saturday at 5:30 AM and 5 PM
Sunday at 5:30 AM, 6:30 AM, 7:30 AM, 9:30 AM, 4 PM, 5:15 PM, and 6:30 PM
***Notice: From July 2017, Notre Dame Cathedral has gone under renovation, which should be finished by June 2020. Visitors are not allowed; only Catholic believers attending mass can go inside.
Activities around Notre Dame Cathedral
Surrounded with modern skyscrapers in the center of Saigon, the Notre Dame Cathedral is always a pride of Saigon. On occasions such as Christmas and New Year’s Eve, the people often congregate around the church to enjoy the celebrating spirit of these traditional Western events. The church, as well as many streets and buildings around this area, are decorated with colorful lights and beautiful figures.
The walls outside of the church are also often chosen as ideal backgrounds to take pictures for many people, especially Vietnamese wedding couples. It is not hard to find brides in gowns and grooms in tuxedos or girls wearing Ao dai doing their photoshoots here.
Located in a busy central district, Notre Dame Cathedral is also near a lot of other attractions and local places where you can visit and go shopping like Diamond Plaza, Saigon Central Post Office, and 30-4 Public Park.
Saigon Central Post Office
On the right of the Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office is another famous attraction in Saigon. This building was also built by the French after they had finished the construction of the cathedral. Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Central Post Office have been the two iconic symbols of Saigon since they were built.
If you are interested in historical places, let our tour guides show you more when you join our Day Tour Adventure.
30-4 (April 30th) Park and Ca Phe Bet (Makeshift Street Coffee)
This public park is a favorite place for most young Vietnamese to hang out and have coffee with their friends. They often gather here, buy a cup of coffee, and kick back in their leisure time around noon or afternoon. You should walk around this area to enjoy the peaceful and fresh air that could be difficult to find in the city center. You can also enjoy Vietnamese milk coffee like the locals to understand why they love this drink so much.
When going around this area, you often run into some local students who want to practice English; if you are not in a rush and you feel comfortable, making small conversations with them could help you learn more about the lifestyle and interesting things in Saigon. However, you must be well aware of pickpockets and con artists because they usually lurk around these areas for money. Read more on Annoyances and Scams in Vietnam.
At the moment, since the church is under construction, there is little to no street coffee activity around the area.
Nguyen Van Binh Book Street
Nguyen Van Binh Book Street is a rather new attraction, established as an innovation to encourage locals to read books and support local bookstores. It is a chilled pedestrian corner with bookstores on both sides of the street, or you can also grab a book and sit at a McDonald’s nearby. There are also cafes and sitting areas so you can have a relaxing time reading. Some of the bookstores that sell English books here are Phuong Nam and Nha Nam.
Summary of Saigon Attractions: Notre Dame Cathedral
The Notre Dame Cathedral is a historical and cultural attraction in Saigon, a witness to the city’s development for almost 140 years. Annually, this place attracts a large number of tourists to visit when they travel to Saigon, and many locals who want to take pictures with a good view. Check out our guides Ho Chi Minh One-Day Itineraries and Free Things to do in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh) to see and explore the church and other famous sites in this city by motorbike.
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