Cha Tam Church (officially known as the Church of St. Francisco Xavier) is an old church built in 1900 and completed in 1902. Located in Saigon China Town, this is perhaps the only church decorated like Chinese pagodas and temples in Ho Chi Minh City. Cha Tam Church is a perfect mix of Gothic (Western) and Chinese (Eastern) architectures. Ngo Dinh Diem – the former president of the Republic of Viet Nam and his brother Ngo Dinh Nhu had hidden in the house of the Chinese businessman Ma Hi for one night, prayed in Cha Tam Church on the next day before they were deposed and assassinated during the 1963 military coup.
General information about Cha Tam Church
Location: 25 Hoc Lac Street, Ward 8, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City. CLICK HERE to see the location of the temple on Google Maps. It is about 6 km from Ben Thanh Market.
Opening hours: 4:00 – 22:00.
Tel: +84 28 3856 0274
Official name: Church of Saint Francisco Xavier or Nhà thờ Thánh Francisco Xavier. Common name: Cha Tam Church or Nhà Thờ Cha Tam.
Mass Schedule: Saturday: 6:30 (in Vietnamese); 19:30 (in Chinese)| Sunday: 5:30 (in Vietnamese); 7:30 (in Chinese); 16:00 (in Vietnamese); 17:30 (in Chinese).
Construction of the new church
In 1866, Admiral Lagrandiere who was then the Governor of South Vietnam came by the first church of Chinese people and saw that it is too old and small. Chinese and Vietnamese Christians in the regions had no enough place to pray or go to Mass. The number of Christians had decreased so that Admiral Lagrandiere ordered the Department of Public Works to use the public money to build a church.
With the support of the government, Bishop Despierre had Priest Pierre d ‘Assou (or Dam A To, Tam An Su, usually called Cha Tam in Vietnamese) who was good in Chinese to go to Saigon China Town, build a new church and develop Christianity in the region. He fought a 3-hectare coconut field in Lo Ren Village, near Le Chau Assembly Hall, in the center of Cholon. The land had been owned by 10 Chinese Vietnamese so that Cha Tam must find all of the owners to buy the land. Finally, he could only find 9 owners who agreed to sell the field and were responsible for the sale if the 10th owner returned.
Because there was a few Chinese Christians, Cha Tam asked Chinese non-Christians for donations. There was no enough money to build the church. He went to meet Abbots and priests of 32 pagodas and temples and call them for support. He was successful and received enough money to build the new church and furnish it.
On the third of December 1900, also the celebration day of Saint Francisco Xavier, Bishop of Saigon Mossard came to carry out the ceremony of laying the first stone of the church. Therefore the temple was named after St. Francisco Xavier. After two years, on the tenth of January 1902, the grand opening was held solemnly.
Because Priest Pierre d’ Assou, commonly called Cha Tam managed the church construction and was also the first Vicar, people usually called the church Cha Tam Church.
After that, Cha Tam also caused a kindergarten, an orphanage, houses for rent to be built. In 1934, Cha Tam passed away and was buried right beside the wall, near the gate of the church. In 1990, the church’s bell tower was restored and the Jesus altar was renewed.
Restoration and upgrade
The church has been restored for many times. On 2nd January 2000, Archbishop Gioan Baotixita held the grand opening of a three-story meeting house consisting of 8 classrooms and a hall with a capacity for 400 people.
Vicar’s assistant Gioan Baotixita Huynh Tinh Huong studied and designed Cha Tam Church himself. Generally, the church was designed and built in the Gothic style. Cha Tam Church looks like old European churches, but it was also inspired by the Chinese traditional architecture. The name of the church is written in Chinese and there are many Chinese sentences and phrases around the church, especially on the main gate. The roof is covered with yin and yang tiles and decorated with two carps. There are lotus decorations on the top of the church. The four pillars in the main worship place is painted red color, which doesn’t exist in the Christian churches.
Hidden story at Cha Tam church
On the first of November 1963, the military overthrow broke out, President Ngo Dinh Diem and his younger brother Ngo Dinh Nhu – adviser of Republic of Viet Nam regime in South Viet Nam came and stayed at a house of a Chinese Vietnamese named Ma Tuyen in Cho Lon area.
The next morning, on the second of November 1963, the two men came to the church to pray before giving themselves to overthrow the side. However, both of them were killed by an officer of the overthrow force just on his way convoying from Cha Tam church to the General staff.
Main Gate – an example of Chinese design in a church
Three-entrance gates are very popular in Vietnam and Chinese in the past. The gate is supported by four red round pillars decorated with green and white Chinese traditional patterns around their top. The gate has three entrances and three roofs covered with sparkling green ceramic tiles. Carvings depicting two dragons facing a gem (or moon) under Chinese characters on the main entrance, wave and carps decors on the top of the main entrance’s roof are typical features of Chinese architecture as well as Vietnamese architecture. The main gates of most Western churches are not as colorful as the gate of Church of Saint Francisco Xavier in Ho Chi Minh City.
However, angels with two wings and trumpets at the eaves of the roofs and a red cross on the top of the main entrance’s roof are popular decorations of Western churches. Main gate of Chinese temples and pagodas usually has two dragons facing a gem instead of the cross. There is also name of the church in Vietnamese on the gate signboard.
The statue of Virgin Mary is worshiped in a nice hexagonal house designed in traditional Chinese style. The house is supported by 6 red round marble pillars on which there are Chinese couplets. Furthermore, the roof is curved upward and covered with green yin and yang tiles. The staircase railing is carved with wave and cloud patterns. A delicate white marble dragon carving is place in the middle of the staircase. All show characteristics of Chinese architecture.
The cross on the top of the roof, cross patterns on the fence around the house and on wooden decorations between pillars show that this is a house where Mother Mary in Christianity, not Buddhas, Chinese Gods or deities in other religions is worshiped.
For more information, the house was inaugurated on 1st January 2010. According to Priest Huynh Van Tru, the statue of Mary was put in a Penjing next to the church. However, there was not enough space for Christians to stand in front of the church, the Penjing was removed and the statue was moved in to a new house in the center of the front yard. Priest Huynh Van Tru decided not to choose a statue in Vietnamese style or Chinese style, but a statue in European style.
Behind the Virgin Mary House is a gold-painted relief depicting 120 Chinese Martyrs. There is a green tiled roof above the painting. On the left of the painting of 120 Chinese Martyrs is the gold-painted relief representing 117 Vietnamese Martyrs.
House of Charity
Passing through the main gate, visitors can see a house painted yellow under green old trees, with a glass cabinet containing free Vietnamese plain bread. In the House of Charity, volunteers cook and put foods into boxes while talking and smiling. Poor people who do not have enough money to buy foods usually come here to take the boxes and fill their stomachs.
House for Rent
Next to the House of Charity is the houses for rent. Green and white walls, wooden windows and doors, nice traditional Vietnamese wind flow bricks make the houses eye-catching. Residents grow lots of plants and flowers, especially orchids, they hang pots on the balconies and put them on the ground in front of the houses.
Cha Tam Church is designed in the Gothic style, it is inspired by Western churches. Lancet entrances and windows, four-petal decorations and windows, square pillars and round pillars with decorations around the top, the steeple in which was placed the statue of Saint Francisco Xavier, the spire and the cross on the top of bell tower show characteristics of Gothic architecture. The round clock with Roman numbers is one of the highlights of Cha Tam Church.
The Chinese name of the church above the clock, lotus decors, two carved wooden pannels of Chinese couplets on two sides of the main door, a carved wooden board with the name of the church shows that it is a church built for the Chinese community. Cha Tam Church contains Chinese ancient philosophy itself. On the ground floor, there is a staircase leading to the first floor on which there are two corridors.
The cross section of the ground floor and first floors are in a square shape, windows face the four cardinal directions. The cross section of the tower on the second floor is in a octagonal shape, there are totally 8 windows. The roof also has 8 sides, corresponding to the 8 windows. The design follows yin and yan concept of dualism in Yi Jing .
The church is painted yellow and white colors which make it bright and elegant. The roof is covered with red tiles, the wooden window shutters are in Vietnamese traditional style.
Entering Cha Tam Church, visitors can see everything from lines of round pillars, the Gothic rib vault ceiling. The light green and white vault, pillars and walls blend wonderfully with wooden furniture.
The Jesus altar at the back of the church is a little different from that in most of the churches. Besides the Jesus cross. lancet arches and two glass stained windows which are features of Gothic architecture, there are 4 red round pillars at the back of the church that do not exist in Europen churches. On two middle pillars are hung two red lacquer panels with gilded carved characters. The Chinese couplets mean:
- Unreal frivolous fortune does not satisfy human;
- Enduring sweet kindness of Jesus helps to think about the good.
Above the Jesus cross is a round decoration with a Chinese character in the center and dragon patterns on the edge. The carved wooden altar and armchairs make it look like in the main hall of Chinese and Vietnamese pagodas.
There are three types of windows in the church: the colorful stained glass window and lancet window secured with metal grid – two of the most recognizable features of Gothic architecture, horizontal pivot window fish, leaf, grape wrought iron patterns in Vietnamese style. The glass windows are on two sides of Jesus on cross at the back of the church, the others are on the left and right walls.
Statues of Jesus, Saint Francisco Xavier and Virgin Mary are put on marble pedestals and metal wall pedestals.
On the left of the church is a small kindergarten which gate is painted many colors.
Community Meeting House, School and Hall
On the right of the church is a yellow three-story building called Francis Community Meeting House. There are 8 classrooms an a hall having a capacity for 400 people in the building.
Some photos of Cha Tam Church in 2017
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