Being one of the most ancient cathedrals and having a unique design in Vietnam, Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is a Ho Chi Minh city’s must-visit tourist attraction.
General Information of Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
Location: 1 Cong Xa Paris Street, Ben Nghe Ward, District 1, Ho Chi Minh City. CLICK HERE to see the location of the temple on Google Maps.
Opening hours: In recent, they do not accept visitors to go inside the church. Only foreign and Vietnamese Catholics are accepted to go inside the church and join Holy Mass and other activities.
Name: Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, Cathedral Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate (English), Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon (French), Vương cung thánh đường Chính tòa Đức Bà Sài Gòn, Nhà thờ Đức Bà Sài Gòn (Vietnamese).
Mass Schedule: Sunday: 5:30, 6:45, 8:00, 9:30 (Mass in English), 16:00, 17:15, 18:30; Other days: 5:30, 17:30.
History of Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
As soon as occupying Saigon, French government established churches to have praying place for French Christians.
The first church was located on Ngo Duc Ke Street. It had been a Vietnamese pagoda abandoned during the war. Bishop Lefevre decided to make this pagoda a church. Because the church was too small, Admiral Bonard decided to build a wooden church on the bank of Charner canal (Kinh Lớn) in 1863. Bishop Lefevre put the first stone for construction of the church on 28 March 1863. The construction was finished two years later and called Saigon Church.
When the wooden church was damaged by termites, the French government decided to build a new and big cathedral which has remained until today. All church services were held in the guest-chamber of the French Governor’s Palace until the Notre-Dame Cathedral was completed.
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After the design competition, bids were accepted for construction. J. Bourard was the successful bidder and became supervisor of construction. On 7 October 1877, Bishop Isidore Colombert laid the first stone in an inaugural ceremony. The construction of the cathedral took three years. On Easter Day, 11th April 1880, a blessing ceremony and ceremony of completion were solemnly organized in presence of the Governor of Cochinchina Charles Le Myre de Vilers.
One can see the granite plate inside the main entry gate commemorating the start and completion dates and designer. The total cost was 2,500,000 French francs (at that time price). At the beginning, the cathedral was called State Cathedral due to the source of the construction funds.
In 1895, two bell towers were built.
In the flower garden in front of the cathedral, there was a bronze statue of Pigneau de Behaine (also called Bishop of Adran) leading Prince Cảnh, the son of Emperor Gia Long by his right hand. The statue was made in France. In 1945, the statue was removed, but the foundation remains.
In 1959, Bishop Joseph Pham Van Thien, whose jurisdiction included Saigon parish, attended the Marian Congress held in Vatican and ordered a statue of Our Lady of Peace made with granite in Rome. When the statue arrived in Saigon on 16 February 1959, Bishop Pham Van Thien held a ceremony to install the statue on the empty base and presented the title of “Regina Pacis”. It was the same bishop who wrote the prayers “Notre-Dame bless the peace to Vietnam”. The next day, Cardinal Aganianian came from Rome to chair the closing ceremony of the Marian Congress and solemnly chaired the ceremony for the statue, thus the cathedral was named Notre-Dame Cathedral.
In 1960, Pope John XXIII erected Roman Catholic dioceses in Vietnam and assigned archbishops to Hanoi, Hue and Saigon. The cathedral was titled Saigon Chief Cathedral. In 1962, Pope John XXIII anointed the Saigon Chief Cathedral, and conferred it the status of a basilica. From this time, this cathedral was called Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica.
Garden and Statue of Mary
The front of the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is a large park with four confluent roads forming a cross. In the center of the park is placed the peaceful mother statue (or the peaceful queen). The statue was made by G. Ciocchetti in 1959.
During October 2005, the statue was reported to have shed tears, attracting thousands of people and forcing authorities to stop traffic around the Cathedral. However, the top clergy of the Catholic Church in Vietnam couldn’t confirm that the Virgin Mary statue in front of a cathedral had shed tears, which nevertheless failed to disperse the crowd flocking to the statue days after the incident. The reported ‘tear’ flowed down the right cheek of the face of the statue.
Exterior design of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
The cathedral has a length of 93 m, a width of 35 m, and a height of 60.5 m (including the crosses) and a capacity for 1,200 people. The cathedral foundation was designed to bear ten times the weight of the cathedral. The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon doesn’t have any fence or wall surrounding the same as ones throughout Gia Dinh city (former name of Saigon) at that time.
The outside wall of Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon was built with bricks from Marseille. Although the contractor did not use coated concrete, these bricks have retained their bright red color until today. All the original building materials were imported from France. Tiles have been carved with the words Guichard Carvin, Marseille St André France (perhaps stating the locality where the tiles were produced). Some tiles are carved with the words “Wang-Tai Saigon”. Many tiles have been made in Ho Chi Minh City to replace the tiles that were damaged by the war.
Each tower is 57.6 meters high with six bronze bells with a total weight of 28.85 metric tonnes. The crosses were installed on the top of the towers. Each cross is 3.5 m high, 2 m wide and 600 kg weigh. The total height of the cathedral, including the cross is 60.5 m.
Facade, windows, clock
The facade has 3 arched entrances, 15 arched, a big round window containing 9 smaller flowers in the middle, 2 round windows on two sides and a huge clock. The windows make the church well ventilated. The big clock on the facade, between two bell towers of the cathedral has a diameter of 15 m. It is made in Switzerland in 1887, R.A mark, 2,5 m high, 3 m long and 1 m wide, 1 ton weigh. Although the clock is simple and old, it works rather exactly today.
Interior design of Saigon Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica
Inside there are 2 rows of main pillars, each side being 6 ones, simpling for 12 Disciples. In the back of 2 rows of main pillars is 2 aisles. On two sides are many small chapels with many small altars (over 20 altars) and small icons made from white stones. Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon doesn’t have places for candles. All lights have been used electricity since it was built.
Stained glass windows and ox-eye windows
Highlights of the cathedral include 56 stained glass windows carrying pictures of characters in Bible were supplied by the Lorin firm of Chartres province in France, 25 ox-eye windows of the small beautiful images, 31 round roses.
The Altar in the main worship place was made of a marble block with the six- god picture carved directly into the one. The six gods bear the surface of the altar. The platform is divided into 3 parts. Each part is sculpture describing performances. The wall is decorated prominently with 56 glazed doors expressing characters, events in prayer-book, 31 round rose windows, 25 cow-eye windows made from glass with many colors. Total lines, edges, traceries are abided by Roman and Gôtich, solemn and polite.
Standing in front of the main altar of the church, looking up the high part of the main door, you can see a wooden wall where you can see a pipe organ. It is one of the two most ancient organs in Vietnam. It was handmade by foreign experts, designed specially, enough for whole the church to hear, neither small nor noisy. Its trunk is 3 m high, 4 m wide, 2 m long and contains air pipes made from aluminum having a diameter of about 10 centimeters.
The organ was similarly designed as the piano but is more complex. The organ also has big bars to hit the bottom of sound tubes which is somewhat similar playing k’long of Central Highlands. The organ has 7,374 pipes, with 900 classified as historical. It has 110 real stops, five 56-key manuals and a 32-key pedalboard. In order to play the organ, the player had to learn a special course at the church.
In recent, this organ has completely broken down due to lack of storage. Termites ate its wooden manual key controller.
There is the only 40-cm-wide staircase leading to the two bell towers where there are six bronze bells, produced in France and imported in Saigon in 1879, with a total weight of 28.85 metric tonnes. Bells Sol, Si, Re, Mi are hung in the right tower, bells named La, Do are hung in the left tower.
The cathedral has 3 the biggest bells. The si bell weighs 4,184kg, the la bell weighs 5,931kg and especially the sol bell is the biggest bell in the world, weighing 8,785 kg. The diameter of the biggest bell’s mouth is 2.25 m, its height is 3.5 m. This bell only sounds once a year at the Lunar New Year’s Eve. The bell is said to be sonorous about 10 km away.
All the bells are controlled electronically. On ordinary days, the temple only rings the mi bell at 5 am, rings the re bell at 16.15 p.m. On important days and Sunday, the church rings the bells with Mi, Re and Do chords. On Lunar New Year’s Eve, whole 6 bells are rung.
The big clock is controlled by a small clock connected with it. In order to adjust the clock, the staff must wind up the small clock behind the big clock once a week.
Tomb under the floor of Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon
The Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is resting place for Bishops and Priests, including Bishop Isidore Colombert, who put the first stone and celebrated inaugurating ceremony for the cathedral. He passed away in 1894.
Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon at night
Activities at Notre Dame Cathedral
Notre Dame Cathedral is one of the most beautiful French architectural works in Ho Chi Minh City so that it is one of the top tourist attractions in the city. It is a must stop in any city tour for tourists visiting the city for the first time. It is listed as one of the most photographed places in Saigon. No one can count how many couples, families, classes have taken wonderful photos here.
Every day, people go to mass (in both Vietnamese and English) at the church. On the weekend, many people sit on their knees or stand in front of the statue in the garden and pray. Thanks to the nice view, great location and spacious garden, the cathedral is a popular place for locals and visitors to gather, talk, sit plump on the ground, find something to eat and drink in the morning and at night.
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