Vietnam cathedral's demolition
Bishop Hieu says dilapidated Bui Chu Cathedral is dangerous for churchgoers.
Bui Chu Cathedral, pictured in 2018, is due to be demolished and replaced by a new building. (Photo by Joseph Nguyen)
Architects have asked church leaders in Vietnam’s oldest diocese to conserve an iconic cathedral instead of pulling it down for a new one.
But local Catholics and government authorities have backed the diocese’s plan to demolish 134-year-old Bui Chu Cathedral on May 13.
Bishop Thomas Vu Dinh Hieu of Bui Chu said the cathedral “is one of the most ancient churches and one of the great religious centers in the diocese.”
The cathedral, which measures 68 meters in length, 16 meters in width and 15 meters in height, has Baroque architecture and keeps relics of many Vietnamese martyrs and bishops who served the diocese.
The bishop said the cathedral, built in 1885, has deteriorated seriously due to the tropical climate and annual storms. Its walls and ceiling are in bad condition, causing danger to Massgoers.
“To protect our religious and cultural inheritance, local priests and Catholics have decided to overhaul the cathedral,” the prelate said in a March 11 letter appealing for donations.
Bishop Hieu, 65, said most local Catholics could not afford to cover construction costs because they have low incomes from working on farms and fishing at sea.
On April 17, the diocese announced its plan to knock down the cathedral on May 13.
On May 2, state-run Tuoi Tre newspaper reported that local Catholics and government authorities supported the diocese’s plan.
The newspaper said local authorities have granted building permits to the diocese to build a new cathedral on the same site as the dilapidated one in Nam Dinh province’s Xuan Truong district.
It said architects from the University of Architecture in Ho Chi Minh City asserted that the cathedral is a unique architectural and artistic heritage site which should be protected.
The newspaper said the group examined the cathedral on April 29-30 and concluded that the building had only slight damage and could be reinforced.
Tuoi Tre reported that the group had petitioned Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Culture, Sports and Tourism Minister Nguyen Ngoc Thien and Nam Dinh provincial leaders “to temporarily halt demolition of the cathedral and wait for a holistic evaluation made by the National Council of Cultural Heritage.”
A Dominican nun from Bui Chu Diocese told ucanews.com that she had heard that the cathedral would be pulled down and a new one with similar architecture constructed.
She said the new cathedral would be larger to meet increasing religious needs in the area, where tens of thousands of people attend big feasts at the cathedral.
But she warned that to destroy the historic cathedral would erase the memory of the diocese’s official history. Bui Chu Cathedral is as old as Notre Dame Cathedral in Ho Chi Minh City and St. Joseph’s Cathedral in Hanoi.
“I believe that diocesan leaders are wise enough to listen to public opinions and make good decisions,” the nun said, adding that the local church needs public support to renovate the cathedral or build a new one.
Catholicism was introduced to the area now served by Bui Chu Diocese as early as 1533 by foreign missionaries. The diocese, Vietnam’s cradle of Catholic culture and traditions, is rich in religious sites and ancient churches with Gothic, Spanish, French and Vietnamese architectural influences.