Phat Diem Cathedral

Ninh Binh Province

Built in 1892, the cathedral’s wooden interior has a vaulted ceiling supported by massive columns. Vietnamese-looking cherubs swarm above the granite altar, while Chinese-style clouds drift across the blue ceiling. Beneath are icons of the martyrs slaughtered by Emperor Tu Duc during the 1850s anti-Catholic purges. Opposite the cathedral’s main doors is the free-standing bell tower; stone slabs are where mandarins used to observe Catholic Mass. Between the tower and the cathedral is the tomb of the Vietnamese founder, Father Six (Tran Luc).

The cathedral featured in Graham Greene’s novel The Quiet American – from the bell tower the author watched battles between the North Vietnamese Army (NVA) and the French. Many Vietnamese tourists visit, few of them Catholic, but many are curious about Christianity. Mass is celebrated daily at 5am and 5pm, when the massive bell is rung.

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