Phat Diem Stone Cathedral: The oldest cathedral in Ninh Binh and Vietnam

Phat Diem Stone Cathedral is a long-standing architectural design more than 100 years old and was built during 30 years. With Eurasian architecture quite special from other churches in Vietnam, Phat Diem Stone Cathedral is considered “the catholic capital of Vietnam”.

Phat Diem Stone Catherdal
Phat Diem Stone Catherdal – Source: Internet

Introduction

The church complex is an exchange between the communal house architecture of the East and the Gothic architecture of the West to create an architectural complex such as a pond and the chapel of Mary.

Not built following the towering or massive architecture like the churches in Hai commune (Nam Dinh Province), Phat Diem Cathedral is built in the direction of communal houses, pagodas and temples. The church is designed in the shape of a curved roof like a pagoda, next to it is a cross like a Buddha sitting on a lotus pedestal. This cathedral was built in 1892 and was completed after more than 30 years to the present time. It is the oldest church in Vietnam.

Location

Phat Diem Cathedral is located in Phat Diem town, Kim Son district of Ninh Ninh province, is about 120 km from Hanoi to the south, 28 km from Ninh Binh city center. This is an oriental complex comprising a lake, a cathedral, a stone church, Phuong Dinh (bell house) and three artificial grottoes with a total area of 22 hectares.

History of development

The Ancient Beauty of Phat Dien Catherdal Church
The Ancient Beauty of Phat Dien Catherdal Church – Source: Internet

In the early 19th century, this land was still very wild, full of mud and weeds. In 1828, there was a talented mandarin named Nguyen Cong Tru. This very famous monk was sent by the Hue court to the North with the title “Dinh Dien Su” to explore that new area. He is a man with great merits to have established Tien Hai (Thai Binh) and Kim Son (Ninh Binh) districts. 

Phat Diem stone church complex was built in Kim Son land by priest Peter Tran Luc (commonly known as Sau, 1825-1899) presided over the construction. Mr. Sau has been the parish priest of Phat Diem since 1965. During his 34 years as the parish priest of Phat Diem, Mr. Sau has taken care of human education, as well as the moral life for parishioners. Especially with a very wide view when building the Phat Diem church complex. The materials of the church were built with the best materials at that time such as ironwood stone and this place was also known as the “Catholic capital of Vietnam”.

Read more: Thung Nham Bird Park: A palce to admire the bird ecosystem

Things to do and explore

Phat Diem Cathedral, Ninh Binh: Must-Visit Church In Vietnam
The roof system is built in the traditional overlapping roof style with two roofs, interrupted by windows to get light and create a high rise for the roof – Source: Internet

Coming here, you must be surprised by the massiveness as well as the extremely unique design of the cathedral such as ponds, lakes, statues, bell towers, cathedrals, artificial caves… The materials to build the church are also transported from Nghe An and Thanh Hoa for hundreds of kilometers away. It is hard to imagine that when in rudimentary working vehicles, people can bring thousands of tons of stone and hundreds of ironwood trees with a length of up to 12m and weight of over 7 tons from a long distance to build the cathedral. 

Unlike other churches in Vietnam, the highlight of Phat Diem stone church’s architecture is the harmonious combination between Eastern and Western architecture. All items are arranged in an overall “Vuong” – which means “King”. The space is created multidimensionally by the feng shui element with the lake in front and then the mountain behind. According to the concept of the ancients, wished that everything would go well and be peaceful for life.

Phat Diem church complex includes a large church and 5 small churches. There is a church built of natural stone, called a stone church, in addition to a bell tower and artificial stone cave.

Phuong Dinh (Bell House)

This is probably a masterpiece of Phat Diem stone church in Ninh Binh, Phuong Dinh, which means a square house shaped like a large village communal house with a width of 21m and a height of 25m including 3 floors. Phuong Dinh’s entrance is designed like a Tam Quan gate in traditional architecture, built with blue stone with sophisticated techniques. On the cliffs are bas-reliefs of some saints and carvings of Jesus. The highest floor of Phuong Dinh has 5 tower blocks, the central tower block puts a bell weighing 2 tons and having a height of 1.9m, the special thing about this bell can be heard 10 km away. The remaining four blocks on the top are statues of 4 saints who have written 4 gospels, placed like lotus buds, showing the harmony between Eastern and Western cultures.

The big church area

When visiting the temples and historical sites in the ancient capital of Hoa Lu, visitors need to keep their order not to affect people around, do not sit or step on the statues.
When visiting the temples and historical sites in the ancient capital of Hoa Lu, visitors need to keep their order not to affect people around, do not sit or step on the statues – Source: Internet

Located in the center is a large church area with a length of 74m and a width of 21m with 4 roofs and 5 intricately carved entrances. The main space is the cathedral with a large altar made of monolithic stone, the front and back are carved with typical patterns for the four seasons. Along with that, the small churches are also very unique from the columns, background, walls, doors… carved all in stone.

The roof system is built in the traditional overlapping roof style with two roofs, interrupted by windows to get light and create a high rise for the roof. At the end of the church is a palanquin made from granite that is arched in 5 ways to lead to the church, the ground and facade are levels with the peak in the middle and lower on the sides. The top of the tower is roofed with comedy nose tiles with a delicately curved top evoking a unique combination of two Indochinese architectural styles. Wooden altars in the church are painted with golden steel to create a traditional Vietnamese worship space.

Read more: Am Tiem Cave: Explore to see the beauty of the deep mountains

Heart of Mary

In the system of 5 small churches in Phat Diem, there is a house made of stone called the Heart of Mary. The construction was first built by Mr. Sau in this cluster of relics. The church is 15.3 meters long and 8.5 meters wide. Most of the foundations, columns, beams, walls, bars, towers… are made of stone. Therefore Phat Diem is known as the Stone Church.

The Christmas festival is a big festival of Catholics, so this is a great community cultural opportunity for parishioners of Phat Diem diocese. On Christmas Eve, The church is decorated with colorful lights. System of caves, pine trees, luminescent lights. Create a unique and magnificent space different from the usual Christmas holidays that are held solemnly and sacred, creating an attraction for locals and visitors at Noel night.

After more than 100 years of existence with the effects of natural disasters and wars, this building is still solid and has maintained its status quo until now. The architectural complex of Phat Diem stone church was ranked as a national historical and cultural relic in 1988.

Phat Diem Cathedral also has many other intricately carved details. Around the construction are decorated countless familiar images taken from Vietnamese villages such as Long – Ly – Quy – Phuong, pine, chrysanthemum, bamboo, apricot; or the image familiar to Vietnamese Buddhism is the lotus flower. The reliefs are skillfully carved on monolithic greenstones made by stone carving artisans at that time.

Some things need in required

The speace path of Phat DIem Catherdal Church
The speace path of Phat DIem Catherdal Church – Source: Internet

When visiting the temples and historical sites in the ancient capital of Hoa Lu, visitors need to keep their order not to affect people around, do not sit or step on the statues.

You also need to choose for yourself the appropriate costumes to come to this sacred tourist destination, you also need to prepare yourself with water bottles to replenish your energy to be able to explore the entire unique church area. This is cool for you!

Also coming to this attraction, don’t forget to take photos at Phat Diem tile bridge, this bridge was printed on Vietnam postage stamps.

Find out more Ninh Binh Tour here: Ninh Binh Tour

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