Because of its peaceful and solemn aura, the Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City is a great place to escape the buzz of the intense city. Although the cathedral looks strangely out of place with its Gothic and Roman-style architecture, it is certainly a great contrast to the typical plain structures of the city. Constructed by the French during the 1800s, the two twin towers of more than 190 feet never fail to capture the interest of passers-by.
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The current site of the cathedral was once home to the Saigon Church, a small and wooden church constructed in 1863 by the French. Through time, termites eventually invaded the structure, making room for the bidding of a new design of a church. J. Bourad, who was a French architect, won the contest with his bold, neo-Roman design. Construction began in 1877. At the time of its completion, the Basilica was the most beautiful cathedral made of its kind among all French colonies.
The cathedral was constructed entirely of materials imported from France while the red bricks that were used to construct its outside walls were from Marseille. Most of its original tiles still wear the markings from France although many new ones have replaced the bricks damaged during the war. Its old and new combination of bricks has retained much of its lively red color, making it one of the most attractive places in Ho Chi Minh City.
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Its look certainly shows the influence of both the French civilization and Christianity over Saigon City.
The cathedral was completed and formerly opened on Easter Day in 1880. Its striking and prominent twin bell towers were only added in 1895 along with its six bronze bells. In year 1962, the cathedral was awarded an upgraded status changing its name from the Saigon Chief Cathedral to the Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica.
In October 2005, the cathedral made headlines with reports of the statue of the Virgin Mary reputedly shedding tears. The statue, which is situated in front of the church, attracted thousands of people to the cathedral, creating a chaotic but moving sight at the same time. Unfortunately, despite the claims of many source witnesses, the Catholic Church of Vietnam issued an official statement saying that the statue did not shed tears.
Today, the museum still serves as a place of worship to thousands of Vietnamese Catholics. Aside from being a sanctuary, it has been a wonderful backdrop to many Vietnamese movies, shows and couples taking their wedding and pre-nup photographs. Travelers should provide the utmost respect to such sacred structures, especially when mass is taking place. Photographing worshippers may be regarded as a form of intrusion so it is best to avoid taking pictures of people praying. The Notre Dame Cathedral is conveniently located near the War Remnants Museum and the Reunification Palace.
No matter what your religion is, travelers who visit the cathedral can’t help but wonder how many prayers for peace, victory and survival were offered inside the cathedral one through the war-ravaged past of Vietnam. Undoubtedly, the Notre Dame Cathedral remains the perfect example of a structure that has stood the test of time.
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