So Kien is an ancient parish with a strong tradition of morality and faith. Previously, So Kien was the cathedral and bishopric of Dang Ngoai diocese. In addition to the ancient church, So Kien parish also preserved many of the ancient relics of foreign missionaries, previously buildings were used as a seminary and bishopric.
So Kien church is located in Kien Khe Town, Thanh Liem District, Ha Nam Province, about 70km south of Hanoi Archbishopric and Hanoi Cathedral. Situated along the Day River, surrounded by limestone mountains, in the nineteenth century, So Kien parish was chosen as the center of West Dang Ngoai for over 60 years
2. History of So Kien Parish
So Kien remains one of the largest parishes of the archdiocese of Hanoi, with about 8,000 parishioners, residing in six communes in Thanh Liem District, Ha Nam Province.
In 1912, the Second Council of the North was held at So Kien, attended by many bishops and missionaries.
On December 17, 2008, So Kien Church was elevated the temple of the martyrs of the archdiocese of Hanoi by Archbishop Joseph Ngo Quang Kiet. A traditional house was also being built to store and display the relics of the martyrs. All these facilities, together with a retreat house, will become the Center of Pilgrimage in So Kien.
In 2010, the Holy See with the Order of the Congregation of Divine Worship raised the So Kien Church into the fourth basilica in Vietnam, under the title of the Immaculate Conception.
3. Architecture of So Kien church
So Kien church has typical Gothic style. The church was started on October 25, 1877 and was inaugurated six years later, in January 1 883, under the direction of Bishop Puginier Phuoc. The church is 67m long, 31m wide, 23m high, built on a large lagoon. The church has 5 lobes, including 9 chambers, 4 rows of columns, the altar of gold lacquer. The bell tower of the church is 27m high and hangs 4 big bell with Do – Mi – Sol – Do tone, with weight of 2461 kg, 1281 kg, 717 kg and 318 kg, blessed on December 25, 1898.
Like most church structures in the West, the church also features stained-glass windows depicting saints or biblical events. However, the sanctuary and the altar are made of elaborate carved wood, lacquered yellow in traditional Vietnamese style. The inside of the church also holds an old big accordion on the floor of orchestra.
This church was considered the most glorious in Indochina at that time, and continued to be the cathedral until 1924, when the bishopric was moved to Hanoi.
4. So Kien – land of the martyr
When we come to So Kien, we can also visit the 700-buried remains of the martyrs, some of whom were canonized and most were not. Along with the saint relics such as: shackles, torture items, gravestone, card judgment record …, especially the skull of Saint Father Peter Thi, the rope tied to Saint Father Peter Le Tuy, a jar of soil drenched blood of Saint Father Ven and Saint Father Dung Lac.
So Kien was also honored as the cradle of the two martyrs (Priest Truong Van Thi and the catechist Peter Truong Van Duong) and a place to store many holy relics. Thanks to spiteful and subtle investigation of Bishop Gendreau and collection for 10 years (1873-1883), a valuable record was made for 27 beatified martyrs, including two local martyrs mentioned above.
Nowadays, after a period of eight months of restoration of So Kien church, the restoration has been completed. Restored items include: The church ceiling and walls inside the church are painted in bright colors. People painted gold for wooden paintings and the main altar. The church’s glass doors were replaced with colored glass. The altarpiece is made of stone with the bas-relief “Jesus and the two disciples Emmaus”, placed in the middle of the altar. Sound systems and lights are also perfectly installed. The final work is to replace the floor of the church and order the seats.
Today, there are many Catholics and visitors who visit So Kien Church to see the cathedral and the center of Dang Ngoai (Tonkin) diocese. This church has witnessed many important events of the church in North Vietnam.