Tuesday, June 27 2017

VietNamNews

Grand old churches stand high in HCM City

Update: December, 31/2016 - 09:00
Built in 1877-1879 to a design by Jules Bourard, the Sài Gòn Notre Dame Cathedral downtown is a major tourist attraction in HCM City. VNS Photo Phương Đặng
Viet Nam News

There are a number of huge, old churches in Ho Chi Minh City.

They were built in the days when France ruled Viet Nam.

Some have become well-known landmarks in the city.

Every Sunday, both foreigners and Vietnamese people worship in these churches.

By  Bồ Xuân Hiệp

Though born in a Buddhist family in HCM City, I began to visit Catholic churches regularly for two reasons: my adoption of my godparents’ religious beliefs and my admiration for French architecture.

Every time I go to church to pray for my family and loved ones, I feel blessed and manage to get some peace of mind, no matter how stressed I feel.

For visitors of any religion who want to be immersed in a tranquil atmosphere, visiting a church in the city can be a rewarding experience.

Some of the most beautiful churches, such as Notre Dame Basilica, Tân Định and Huyện Sỹ in downtown HCM City, have been popular with local and foreign tourists for years.

But few people, even local residents, know the history behind each church.

One of the best sources of information about the country’s architectural heritage is Tim Doling, a writer and historian from the UK who writes a popular blog called Historic Việt Nam.

Most of the churches in the city were built in the second half of the 19th century, according to Doling’s website (www.historicvietnam.com).  

The most well-known church of all is the Sài Gòn Notre-Dame Cathedral, or Notre Dame Basilica, located in the heart of the city at Paris Square.

It attracts not only Catholics but also local and foreign tourists for its neo-Romanesque style and sacred atmosphere.

Few people know exactly when the church was built as many websites list inaccurate dates.

According to Doling, the cathedral “was built in 1877-1879 to a design by Jules Bourard, as a replacement for the ill-fated 1863 Église Sainte-Marie-Immaculée, which stood on the site of today’s modern Sun Wah Tower on Nguyễn Huệ Street, until it became infested by termites and had to be demolished”.

The first stone of the new cathedral was laid on October 7, 1877 by Admiral-Governor Victor Duperré in the presence of Bishop Isidore Colombert.

Established by French colonists, the cathedral has two bell towers standing 58 metres high. During its construction, all of the red bricks were imported from Marseilles and the coloured glass windows were made in Chartres Province in France. Around 56 glass squares were supplied by the Lorin firm from the province.

The original tiles were carved with the name Guichard Carvin, Marseille St André, France, which indicates where they were probably produced.

Other tiles are inscribed with the name Wang-Tai Saigon. To replace broken tiles caused by the war, many have since been made in Biên Hoà, 30km from the city.

A statue of Virgin Mary, erected in 1954, stands in front of the cathedral, which has a foundation designed to bear 10 times the building’s weight.

Full church services in both Vietnamese and English are held every Sunday morning and are well attended by Vietnamese and foreigners alike.

My godmother, Nguyễn Thị Yến Nga, 56, and I often stop by the church for prayers on the way from my home to downtown.

She began praying at the cathedral when she was very young, believing that her prayers would bring good luck to our family. She and I actually do not go inside the church, and instead, stand outside in front of the statue of Virgin Mary and pray.

The church is a short walking distance from other iconic landmarks, including the city’s Post Office and Opera House. 

Hoàng Thị Hương, 33, a Catholic who lives in Thủ Đức District, said the cathedral was her "favourite destination in the city for attending Mass or just visiting outside."

The cathedral is a popular landmark for foreigners who want to see more of the old Sài Gòn. However, the city in recent years has been losing a number of historic structures to make way for high-rises and other property projects.

Besides the cathedral, other beautiful churches in the city include Tân Định Church, built from 1870 to 1876.

“You just have to mention the ‘pink church’ and everyone knows which one you mean,” Doling writes in his blog.

But few are aware that Tân Định Church is one of the city’s oldest and most important Roman Catholic institutions.

Designed in a Romanesque style with Gothic and Renaissance elements, the church includes a nave with a tall barrel-vaulted roof (today hidden by a false ceiling), separated by arcades from side aisles and outer corridors.

The design incorporates a triforium or shallow-arched upper gallery and features two apsidal chapels that extrude from either side of the nave, close to the entrance, according to Doling. The one at the right as you enter is dedicated to Mary and Joseph, while the one to the left is dedicated to St Theresa.

The saints’ statues and the 14 Stations of the Cross, which adorn the outer side aisle pillars, date from the 1890s.

Another famous structure that should not be missed is the Huyện Sỹ Church.

The Église Huyện Sỹ in District 1 was built from 1902 to 1905 at the corner of Nguyễn Trãi and Tôn Thất Tùng streets, through the beneficence of Huyện Sỹ (1841-1900; real name: Philippe Lê Phát Ðạt), who was once the richest man in southern Việt Nam.

The church was named after Huyện Sỹ, who was born in a Catholic family from Long An Province. The building has been refurbished on numerous occasions, most recently from 2007 to 2009.

The brick church, which measures 40m long by 18m wide, has pillars and decorative work in Biên Hòa granite. Above the front vestibule is a 57-m high bell tower, and a statue of St Philip stands at the main entrance.

The design of the church is Gothic with Romanesque decorative elements, with a vaulted nave flanked by vaulted aisles decorated in pastel green and white. The windows are adorned with images of Bible stories in Italian stained glass.

Along the walls are statues of Biblical and Vietnamese saints and the 14 Stations of the Cross. On either side of the transept are small chapels dedicated to Virgin Mary and St Joseph.

The chancel features a richly decorated marble high altar, which stands on an open platform and features ornate gilding work and exquisitely carved bas reliefs of biblical scenes, including The Last Supper and The Angel Gabriel Visits Mary.

Huyện Sỹ passed away in 1900 before the church was completed. When his wife Huỳnh Thị Tài died in 1920, he was reburied alongside his wife in the axial memorial chapel immediately behind the chancel.

Elaborately carved from the finest marble, the tombs feature full-length effigies of the couple. Busts of Huyện Sỹ and Huỳnh Thị Tài are also installed on the walls.

Chợ Quán, Cha Tam churches

Besides these structures, visitors should also stop by the Chợ Quán Church in District 5. The Catholic Church with solemn, magnificent architecture opened in 1896.

The church is decorated in a French Gothic style with a pointed dome and large bell tower. From the top of the tower, tourists can see a panoramic view of the city. The ringing of the church bells emits a sense of peace and tranquility.

The Cha Tam Church, commonly known as St Francis Xavier Parish Sài Gòn, was built in 1900 and completed in 1902. Its distinctive character reflects a mixture of European, Chinese and Vietnamese architectural styles.

The church has Gothic architecture like many churches in Europe, but Chinese features are incorporated, including a name written in kanji, a tiled roof, a curved sword, and a two-sided cross.

On the roof of the church are a lotus and two painting scrolls written in kanji. The four main pillars are red, a feature rarely seen in Catholic churches.

During the Christmas holiday, all of these historic churches are adorned with decorations that attract both foreign and local tourists.

Heritage tours

Besides his heritage blog, Doling has written a new walking tour guidebook called Exploring HCM City.

He also runs Heritage Tours, which introduces a wealth of lesser-known places of interest, alongside the city’s better-known historic sites.

Originally trained as a medieval historian, Doling has spent most of his career in the cultural sector, running theatres and arts centres in Coleraine (Northern Ireland), Horsham (England) and Hong Kong, and undertaking cultural projects in Asia, Africa and Europe.

First visiting HCM City in 1989 on holiday from Hong Kong, where he was working as chief executive of the Hong Kong Arts Centre, he found the city so beautiful and interesting that he sought to return.

In 1990, Doling organised a research trip to Việt Nam to set up cultural exchanges between his arts centre and Vietnamese arts organisations, beginning his long connection with Việt Nam. — VNS

 


GLOSSARY

Though born in a Buddhist family in HCM City, I began to visit Catholic churches regularly for two reasons: my adoption of my godparents’ religious beliefs and my admiration for French architecture.

Adoption means taking on something that was not yours in the beginning. The writer’s adoption of her godparents’ religion happened because she was born Buddhist but took on another religion.

Godparents are people who parents choose to guide their children in their religious ways.

Architecture is the science and art behind the designing of houses. 

For visitors of any religion who want to be immersed in a tranquil atmosphere, visiting a church in the city can be a rewarding experience.

To be immersed in something means to be very involved in it.

A tranquil atmosphere means a peaceful mood.

It attracts not only Catholics but also local and foreign tourists for its neo-Romanesque style and sacred atmosphere.

Romanesque is the style of designing buildings that was popular in Europe from the end of the Roman Empire until about the year 1200. Neo-Romanesque is the style shortly after that.

Sacred means holy.

Few people know exactly when the church was built as many websites list inaccurate dates.

Inaccurate means incorrect.

According to Doling, the cathedral “was built in 1877-1879 to a design by Jules Bourard, as a replacement for the ill-fated 1863 Église Sainte-Marie-Immaculée, which stood on the site of today’s modern Sun Wah Tower on Nguyễn Huệ Street, until it became infested by termites and had to be demolished”.

Ill-fated means unfortunate.

Infested means occupied by something awful.

Termites are a type of insect.

The first stone of the new cathedral was laid on October 7, 1877 by Admiral-Governor Victor Duperré in the presence of Bishop Isidore Colombert.

If the stone was laid in the presence of the bishop, it means the bishop was there when it happened.

Established by French colonists, the cathedral has two bell towers standing 58 metres high.

Colonists are people who come from one country to another country to rule it and behave as if it is their own country.

During its construction, all of the red bricks were imported from Marseilles and the coloured glass windows were made in Chartres Province in France.

A building’s construction, in this case, is the time when it was being built.

Other tiles are inscribed with the name Wang-Tai Saigon.

If a name is inscribed into a tile it is written into that tile.

A statue of Virgin Mary, erected in 1954, stands in front of the cathedral, which has a foundation designed to bear 10 times the building’s weight.

The foundation of a building is the underneath part that supports it from the ground.

To bear, in this case, means to tolerate.

The church is a short walking distance from other iconic landmarks, including the city’s Post Office and Opera House. 

Iconic landmarks of  HCM City are places in the city that make people think of the city.

Hoàng Thị Hương, 33, a Catholic who lives in Thủ Đức District, said the cathedral was her "favourite destination in the city for attending Mass or just visiting outside."

A destination is a place people travel to.

A Mass is a Catholic church service.

But few are aware that Tân Định Church is one of the city’s oldest and most important Roman Catholic institutions.

Institutions are places where things happen according to special rules.

Designed in a Romanesque style with Gothic and Renaissance elements, the church includes a nave with a tall barrel-vaulted roof (today hidden by a false ceiling), separated by arcades from side aisles and outer corridors.

Gothic is a certain style that dates back to Europe in the 12th  to 16th Centuries.

Renaissance is a style that comes from Europe centuries ago.

A barrel vaulted roof is a design of roof seen in many old European cathedrals as well as in ancient Egyptian and Roman architecture.

An arcade is a covered passage with arches along one or both sides.

An aisle is a passage between rows of seats in a building such as a church or theatre, an aircraft, or train.

The design incorporates a triforium or shallow-arched upper gallery and features two apsidal chapels that extrude from either side of the nave, close to the entrance, according to Doling.

A chapel is a small church. Cathedrals often have chapels within them. Apsidal chapels are chapels that are part of a large semicircle-shaped end of a cathedral.

The chapels extrude from either side of the nave because its looks as if they are being pushed out of the nave.

A nave is the central part of a church building.

The one at the right as you enter is dedicated to Mary and Joseph, while the one to the left is dedicated to St Theresa.

Dedicated to Mary and Joseph means built to remember them.

The saints’ statues and the 14 Stations of the Cross, which adorn the outer side aisle pillars, date from the 1890s.

Adorn means decorate.

The Église Huyện Sỹ in District 1 was built from 1902 to 1905 at the corner of Nguyễn Trãi and Tôn Thất Tùng streets, through the beneficence of Huyện Sỹ (1841-1900; real name: Philippe Lê Phát Ðạt), who was once the richest man in southern Việt Nam.

Beneficence is an action that is done for the sake of being good to other people.

 
 
 

The building has been refurbished on numerous occasions, most recently from 2007 to 2009.

To refurbish a building means to do building work on it to change the inside of it.

Above the front vestibule is a 57-m high bell tower, and a statue of St Philip stands at the main entrance.

A vestibule is a small room at the door of a building.

The windows are adorned with images of Bible stories in Italian stained glass.

Stained glass is coloured glass.

On either side of the transept are small chapels dedicated to Virgin Mary and St Joseph.

A transept is a cross-shaped church.

The chancel features a richly decorated marble high altar, which stands on an open platform and features ornate gilding work and exquisitely carved bas reliefs of biblical scenes, including The Last Supper and The Angel Gabriel Visits Mary.

A chancel is the part of a church near the altar.

Ornate means elaborately or highly decorated.

Gilding work means work that is painted in gold.

Exquisitely means absolutely beautifully.

 Bas reliefs are a kind of sculpture in which shapes are carved so that they are only slightly higher than the flat background.

When his wife Huỳnh Thị Tài died in 1920, he was reburied alongside his wife in the axial memorial chapel immediately behind the chancel.

An axial chapel is one that is built around an axis

Elaborately carved from the finest marble, the tombs feature full-length effigies of the couple.

Effigies are little statues.

Busts of Huyện Sỹ and Huỳnh Thị Tài are also installed on the walls.

A bust is a sculpture of a person’s head, shoulders, and chest.

The Catholic Church with solemn, magnificent architecture opened in 1896.

Solemn means formal and dignified.

The church is decorated in a French Gothic style with a pointed dome and large bell tower. From the top of the tower, tourists can see a panoramic view of the city.

A dome is a type of round roof.

A panoramic view is an all-round view.

The ringing of the church bells emits a sense of peace and tranquility.

Tranquility means calmness.

Its distinctive character reflects a mixture of European, Chinese and Vietnamese architectural styles.

Distinctive, in this case, means unique.

Originally trained as a medieval historian, Doling has spent most of his career in the cultural sector, running theatres and arts centres in Coleraine (Northern Ireland), Horsham (England) and Hong Kong, and undertaking cultural projects in Asia, Africa and Europe.

Medieval means relating to the Middle Ages.

WORKSHEET

Find words that mean the following in the Word Search.

  1. A church within the Christian religion.
  2. A word that describes the religion into which Bồ Xuân Hiệp was born.
  3. The colour of Tân Định Church.
  4. A saint to which a chapel at Tân Định Church is dedicated.
  5. The part of the world in which you would find a place called Horsham.

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© Duncan Guy/Learn the News/ Viet Nam News 2016

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

1. Catholic; 2. Buddhist; 3. Pink; 4. Theresa; 5. England.

 

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