Cha Tam Church (Church of Saint Francisco Xavier)

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).

History

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.

Architecture

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.

Main gate of Cha Tam Church, looked from outside

The main gate of Cha Tam Church looked from outside (This photo was taken in 2017 when the color of the pillar was pink).

The main gate of Cha Tam Church, looked from the front yard

The main gate of Cha Tam Church looked from the front yard (The photo was taken at the end of 2019 when the pillars were in red color).

The cross flanked by two fish decors, wave and angel with trumpet decors on the roofs of main gate of Cha Tam church

The cross flanked by two carp decors, wave and angel with trumpet decors on the roofs of the main gate are impressive decorations at Chat Tam Church. On the gate board are written official names of Cha Tam Church in Vietnamese and Chinese, its address in Vietnamese and two dragons facing a gem (moon). The gate is supported by shinning red pillars with beautiful decorations around their top.

Front Yard

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.

A traditional Chinese house where Mother Mary is worshiped in the yard of Cha Tam Church

A traditional Chinese house where Mother Mary is worshiped in the yard.

Stone carving depicting a dragon facing a gem on the staircase of Mother Mary House of Cha Tam Church

The square stone carving depicting a dragon facing a gem on the staircase of Mother Mary House.

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.

The relief depicting 120 Chinese Martyrs in the front yard of Cha Tam Church

The relief depicting 120 Chinese Martyrs in the front yard of Cha Tam Church.

The gold painted relief depicting 117 Vietnamese Martyrs in the front yard of Cha Tam Church

The gold painted relief depicting 117 Vietnamese Martyrs in the front yard of Cha Tam Church.

Saint Francisco Xavier is worshiped in front of the church.

Saint Francisco Xavier is worshiped in front of the church, the yellow and white house is designed in Gothic style.

Jesus on the cross in the yard of Cha Tam Church

Jesus on the cross is placed on the right in front of the church.

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.

Cha Tam Church

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

Church

Exterior

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.

The facade of Cha Tam Church

The yellow and white facade of Cha Tam Church.

The yellow and white round clock with golden Roman numbers, Cha Tam Church

The yellow and white round clock with golden Roman numbers, the cross at the bottom of the clock, two lancet windows, Chinese characters above the clock, tiled onion dome decorations and four-petal decorations.

Cha Tam Church

1. Two round pillars with European decorations, lancet arch, the wooden main door 2. Carved wooden panel with gilded name of the church in Chinese, a cross is on the top of the panel 3. One of 2 wooden panels with gilded Chinese couplets on two sides of the main doors 4. One of two side doors.

The right side of Cha Tam Church

The right side of Cha Tam Church

Interior

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.

Cha Tam Church

Round pillars, lancet arches, vault ceiling in green and white colors.

Jesus cross, red pillars with gilded panels and black Chinese character, round decoration with a Chinese character, two stained glass windows, carved wooden altar and armchairs in Cha Tam Church

Jesus cross, red pillars with gilded panels and black Chinese character, round decoration with a Chinese character, two stained glass windows, carved wooden altar and armchairs.

The round decoration with Chinese characters and dragon patterns in Cha Tam Church

The round decoration with Chinese characters and dragon patterns above Jesus cross.

Tiles in Cha Tam Church

Marble, cement and glazed tiles.

Stained glass window, pivot window with wrought iron patterns, lancet window with metal grid in Cha Tam Church

Stained glass window, pivot window with wrought iron patterns, lancet window with metal grid.

Statues of Jesus, Saint Francisco Xavier and Virgin Mary pedestals in Cha Tam Church

Statues of Jesus, Saint Francisco Xavier and Virgin Mary pedestals in Cha Tam Church.

Kindergarten

On the left of the church is a small kindergarten which gate is painted many colors.

Kindergarten on the land of Cha Tam Church

Kindergarten on the land of Cha Tam Church

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.

Community Meeting House, School and Hall on the land of Cha Tam Church

Community Meeting House, School and Hall in a three-story building.

The front yard is full of pupils and parents after school in the evening Cha Tam Church

The front yard is full of pupils and parents after school in the evening.

Parent pick up pupils at Cha Tam Church Saigon

Most of the parents pick up their children by motorbikes.

Some photos of Cha Tam Church in 2017

Cha Tam Church In Saigon 2

Pastel-yellow and white, slender church Cha Tam Church.

Located in the garden of Cha Tam church, the Maria is worshiped in a Chinese style house

The houses for rent on right at Cha Tam church

The houses for rent on the right.

The houses for rent on the left at Cha Tam Tam Church

The houses for rent on the left.

Cha Tam Church In Saigon 9

There was only one painting depicting 117 Vietnamese Martyrs.

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