Nam Dinh - Land of magnificent cathedrals

by Thanh Hai23 April 2016 Last updated at 13:36 PM - The Southern province of Nam Dinh is known as the cradle of Catholicism in Vietnam.

Along with the arrival of the religion into the country came magnificent European architecture, making Nam Dinh a place with some of Vietnam’s most beautiful cathedrals. In our Culture watch segment this week, let’s visit some of them to discover their beauty.

Known as the land of cathedrals in Vietnam, Nam Dinh province is home to about 600 of them, a tenth of all cathedrals in Vietnam. Nam Dinh’s first cathedrals were built in the late 19th century. Influenced mainly by the French style, churches here follow ecclesiastical architecture, with large open spaces, high arches, and stained-glass rose windows or “Rosace” in French.

Three of the more common architectural styles are Gothic, Romanesque and Baroque. Among these, Gothic is the most popular.

However, after entering Vietnam, this decorative style became less extreme compared with the original French. A stand-out among Gothic cathedrals in Nam Dinh Province, Phu Nhai (Cathedral) was given the title of ‘minor basilica’ by Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, becoming the fourth in Vietnam.

In contrast to Gothic, the Baroque style is considered the rarest in Vietnam. Bui Chu(Cathedral) is one of the few cathedrals with this design. It was built in 1885, and belongs to the Bui Chu Diocese, the largest group of Catholics in Vietnam. Even after 100 years, the cathedral still retains many significant features of Baroque architecture.

These architectural styles may not seem too different at first. However, they can be distinguished by the different shapes of the arch, which is pointed in Gothic, rounded in Romanesque, and trefoiled in the Baroque style.

No matter which style might have been used, combinations of Vietnamese and French architecture can be seen in most cathedrals around Nam Dinh.

In order to harmonize the features of East and West, cathedral pillars were built about 11 meters higher than in Vietnamese pagodas and temples.

Besides, local Catholics have also adopted other features of Vietnamese architecture, such as gilding the main altar.

Overcoming the challenges of time, cathedrals in Nam Dinh province have beautifully preserved the traits of French ecclesiastical architecture. Additionally, Vietnamese perspectives have been integrated, giving a national identity to the religion.


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