Situated at No.40 Nha Chung Street, Hoan Kiem District, Saint Joseph Cathedral is a Roman Catholic Church with neo-gothic architecture which you may find rather strange when being in the heart of an Asian country like Vietnam. This church is well-known for not only architecture style but also the graceful scenery. After conquering Hanoi in the late of 19th century, the French built this church in 1882.
The work took four years to fully complete in 1886 when the church was inaugurated on Christmas day of that year. At that time, the church was one of the first structures built by the French Colonial in Indochina. Nowadays, the church remains the biggest one in Hanoi Capital where thousands of religious people come to practice. The architectural style was described to bear a lot of resemblance to that of the famous Notre Dame de Paris. It is said that the construction of the cathedral was on the site once occupied by Bao Thien Tower which was a famous structure in Thang Long – the old capital under Ly Dynasty reigning during the period of the 11th and 12th century.
In 1975, after Viet Minh took control of the North of Vietnam from the French, the church was closed down for a few decades. It was not until 1985, the people who practice Catholic could come in this church again.
What to see
The church was designed in neo-gothic style featuring two large towers. It is 65 meters long and 21 meters wide with two bell towers on either side which were almost 32 meters in height. In the front of the church stand a metal monument of mother Maria. The first look at the cathedral might give visitors the feeling of nostalgia thanks to the faded paint along with green moss. However, once stepping inside, things get really lively and amazing regardless of time. Visitors would be fascinated by the colorful window glass which was originated from France. The color from the glass reflects sunlight which created such magnificent light inside the church. Combined with the high vaulted ceiling, the church serves its visitors a sense of divinity. Between lines of wooden benches is the shiny aisle leading to the sanctuary made of trimmed wood which is in similarity to that in Phat Diem Church in Ninh Binh. Yet there is still some feature of Vietnamese decorations on the wall, the altar, and the aisle. Only on the special occasion can visitors make the entrance to the church through the front main door. Otherwise, people have to get inside the church via the side door. The visit to the Cathedral is free and open from 8am to 5pm on any day of the week
Around the Saint Joseph Cathedral covering the area of Nha Chung, Au Trieu, Nha Tho and Ly Quoc Su Street, you may find a lot of interesting things to experience. This site is always crowded with young local people as well as foreign tourists sitting on the plastic stools, chatting and having some glass of “lemon tea” while watching the busy yet beautiful streets. There are some local foods to taste such as “nem nuong”, “pho”, “chao suon” and “banh ran”. In addition, you can catch sight of many beautiful souvenir shops, galleries and Western style restaurants and café. If you happen to be in Hanoi at Christmas time, don’t forget to pay the Big Church a visit. In front of the Church is a spacious courtyard which would be the gathering point of both religious and non-religious people coming here to enjoy the exciting vibe of the holiday
How to get there
The church will take you a 5-minute walk from the center of the Old Quarter – Hoan Kiem Lake. There are more options for visitors such as taxis, “xe om” or cyclo. However, it is recommended that tourists go on foot to enjoy the unique atmosphere of the street in Hanoi. Starting from Hoan Kiem Lake, proceed to Hang Gai Street until you find the sign of Ly Quoc Su Street on the left. Keep walking and you will find the church which is very outstanding in comparison with its surrounding blocks.