Duc Ba is regarded as the biggest Notre Dame cathedral in Ho Chi Minh city (Saigon). This cathedral was supposed to represent the glory of the French colonizing force. Interestingly, it still has a unique Eastern aspect in spite of being built in a Western architectural style.
Duc Ba (Our Lady’s) Cathedral is located on Han Thuyen Street, facing down Dong Khoi Street, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. Distance from Tan Son Nhat international Airport to Duc Ba Cathedral is about 7 km, 25 minutes by car and is about 1, 5 km from Tan Dinh church.
2. History of Duc Ba cathedral in Saigon
After the first French colonizing force arrived in Vietnam in the mid – 19th century, it took only 21 years before the country had a cathedral to match the hulking Gothic edifices of France itself. Duc Ba cathedral was supposed to represent the glory of the French Empire. Yet, it is always the case with colonization, this attempt to import French traditions into Vietnam transformed the colonizers’ culture in the process. Even though the cathedral was built in a Western architectural style, Duc Ba has a uniquely Eastern aspect.
Several architects put forward design proposals for the cathedral, but in 1877 the authorities selected Mr Bourard, who was famed for his religious architecture. He envisaged, and executed, a basilica-like structure with a square plan. A French priest named Colombert, started constructing this famous Cathedral on October 7th, 1877. The architectural plan of the Notre Dame Cathedral was based on a French design and was executed under the instructions of a renowned French engineer, Baurad. The cost of the construction amounted to 2,500,000 francs.
It was inaugurated in 1880, and became the spiritual and cultural crucible of the French presence in the Orient. According to the history of the cathedral, the construction materials of this church were imported from France Notre Dame.
Two bell towers were built in 1895, 57 m high. In 1920, on each side of the bell tower, a cross was placed at 3.5 m high, 2 m high. Overall height from the ground to the top of the cross is 60.5 m. The bell tower had 6 bells weighing a total of 25, 850 kg; the largest of the Far East at that time, the sound was Sol, La, Si, and Do, Re, Mi. From the outside, the bell tower on the right is the south bell tower. There are the largest bell and three smaller bells. On the left is the female bell tower hanging the remaining two bells. Notre Dame was called “Basilica” on December 7th and 8th, 1959, following the approval of The Holy See of the Vatican.
3. Discover features of Duc Ba Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most unique buildings in Saigon, always attracting the attention of tourists at home and abroad. The Notre Dame Cathedral has a circumference of 91 x 35.5 m. There is no enclosure around. The foundation of the church is specially designed, withstand loads of 10 times the entire church structure above. From the outside, from the wall to the whole roof is a bright red brick, no moss clinging to mold.
The stained glass system on the wall consists of 56 units, depicting characters and events in the Bible. When there is light shining on the beauty shimmering, splendid, 31 pink round vent holes, straight into the wall very smart as the pattern on the silk screen. 25 multi-colored glass colored eyeglass windows combined with beautiful images.
The Duc Ba cathedral is composed of two main central rows with two sidereal corridors, with tall pillars and light coming in through sets of high windows, and a semi-circular shrine. The style follows a Roman pattern, although the outside contains some modifications: the cathedral’s dome are Gothic, and a modern steel skeleton supports the whole building.
The whole building is well-ventilated thanks to a system of air-holes placed above and under the windows. The belfries are 57 m high. For a long time it was the highest structure in the city center, and was the first thing an arriving traveller would see when approaching the city by boat. Stepping inside Duc Ba cathedral, tourists in Vietnam travel can see a line of Chinese characters eulogizing the Jesus’ mother, “the innocent and unblemished Virgin Mother”, and stained-glass portraits of Vietnamese believers. On the square in front of the cathedral, there is a statue of the Virgin Mother made of white marble, symbol of peace.
The walls are made of Bien Hoa granite, combined with red tiles from Marseilles, all without coating. Red tiles from France were also used on the roofs, but they were later replaced with tiles of equal quality from Phu Huu. Natural light streams in through stained-glass windows which were made by the Lorin Company from the French town of Sartre.
- The famous cathedral of the Ho Chi Minh City with its neo-Romanesque facade reminds you the days of French rule in the city.
- The Virgin Mary statue, placed within the small garden, in front of the cathedral, adds to its grandeur.
- The stained glass windows, which used to adorn the Notre Dame Cathedral, were lost during World War II. Those fascinating windows have never been restored.
- The interior decoration of the cathedral is relatively humble and makes a sharp contrast with other French cathedrals. But its cool interior gives you great relief from the outside heat. Its tranquil design is ideal for quiet contemplation.
- Located at the beautiful Paris Square in the center of the city, this late 19th century cathedral has been a prominent feature of the city’s skyline.
- The services offered by the Notre Dame Cathedral attract huge crowd. It remains crowded by the catholic followers of the city, particularly in the Sunday Mass.
- The church is also popular for its New Year and Christmas celebrations.
- The cathedral open from 9:30 am to 11 am for the Sunday Mass
Duc Ba Cathedral is an unusual building: a Western architectural and religious style that has been transplanted into, and adapted to, the East. The colonizers were trying to impose French beliefs and customs onto Vietnam but once that culture arrived on Asia’s shores, it took on a life of its own. The cathedral is seen as a unique synthesis, adding an unmistakable Oriental flavour to an ancient Occidental recipe. If you come to Ho Chi Minh city, Duc Ba Cathedral is a visit-worthy place that you should not ignore.