VietnamActivities & AttractionsSaigon Attractions: Notre Dame Cathedral

Saigon Attractions: Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral, the main church in the Archdiocese of Ho Chi Minh City, is one of Vietnam’s largest and oldest Catholic churches. Besides Catholics attending the church’s weekly mass, 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. Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral and other churches like St. Joseph Cathedral were built in the 19th century when Catholicism received support from the French. After many political changes, Catholicism developed in Vietnam. Vietnam had about 6.5 million Catholic followers and 26 dioceses in 2016.

A Brief History of Notre Dame Cathedral

Notre Dame Cathedral original

Catholic missionary work received much support after the French soldiers had taken control of Saigon. Hence, they started to build churches to organize special occasions for those who followed Catholicism. The Notre Dame Cathedral is a modification of Saigon Church, rebuilt from a small abandoned pagoda. After termites damaged the wooden Saigon Church, 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 church’s name was National French Church because the French paid most of the building fees of the church. However, it 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 occurred, and daily masses opened to the locals.

The Notre Dame Cathedral’s Architecture

Most building materials were imported from France, especially the red bricks from Marseille. The quality has been proven by the long-lasting beauty and firm structure of Notre Dame Cathedral 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 statues in the chapels. The main altar is made of marble and sculpted with sophisticated patterns. There are also a lot of beautiful sculptures of characters and events in the Bible. One of the most impressive beauties is the assembly of 52 magnificent stained glass windows and gorgeous pictures.

Between the bell towers 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 is a system of six bells that chimed different sounds, which were produced in France and imported to Vietnam in 1879. 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, the French first 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 were against French colonization. In 1959, the Vietnamese priest Pham Van Thien ordered the Our Lady of Peace statue made of white marble stones from abroad to replace the old ones. Since then, Saigon people have started calling the church “Notre Dame Cathedral” (Nha tho Duc Ba).

Notre Dame Cathedral the old statue
Statues of Diocesan Pigneau de Béhaine and Prince Canh

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. Visitors are not allowed; only Catholic believers attending mass can go inside.

notre dame cathedral saigon renovations 1 1

Activities around Notre Dame Cathedral

Holiday Celebrations

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, people often congregate around the church to celebrate the spirit of the holidays.

Photography

The walls outside the church are also often chosen as ideal backgrounds for many people, especially Vietnamese wedding couples, to take pictures. It is not hard to find brides in gowns and grooms in tuxedos or girls wearing Ao dai doing their photoshoots here.

Shopping at Diamond Plaza

Diamond Plaza stands at the city’s prime location, making a shopping trip from Notre Dame very convenient. Inside one of the first luxury shopping malls in Saigon, you can find many high-end brands such as Mac or Estee Lauder.

Notre Dame Cathedral neighborhood diamond plaza

Saigon Central Post Office

Notre Dame Cathedral neighborhood central post office

On the right of the Cathedral, Saigon Central Post Office is another famous attraction in Saigon. The French also built this building after they had finished the construction of the cathedral. Notre Dame Cathedral and Saigon Central Post Office are the two iconic symbols of Saigon.

Coffee Hopping

It would be best to walk around this area to enjoy the peaceful and fresh air in the city center. Many coffee shops are within walking distance, and you can also enjoy Vietnamese milk coffee in local shops nearby.

Nguyen Van Binh Book Street

Nguyen Van Binh Book Street is a relatively new attraction, established as an innovation to encourage reading and support local bookstores. It is a chilled pedestrian corner with bookstores on both sides of the street. You can also grab a book and sit at a coffee shop nearby. There are also cafes and seating areas so you can have a relaxing time reading. Phuong Nam and Nha Nam are some bookstores selling English books here.

notre dame cathedral saigon book street 1

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 many tourists when they travel to Saigon, and many locals want to take pictures with a good view. Check out our guides, Ho Chi Minh One-Day Itineraries, to see and explore the church and other famous sites in this city by motorbike.

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