Major renovation underway at Saigon’s iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral

Ho Chi Minh City’s iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral will close to tourists during a massive three-year renovation planned for the building

An aerial view of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City

Ho Chi Minh City’s iconic Notre-Dame Cathedral will close to tourists during a massive three-year renovation planned for the grand building.

Regular Masses will be held as usual for Catholics.

For over two years, a team of local and international experts have surveyed the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon, located in downtown Ho Chi Minh City, in preparation for renovation works with barricades put up on Tuesday.

Built by French colonialists who initially named it Cathédrale Notre-Dame de Saïgon, the cathedral originally measured 36.6 meters after construction between 1863 and 1880.

In 1895, two bell towers were built on top of the cathedral, adding 21 meters to the structure for a total height of 57.6 meters.

Barriers have been erected to fence off the cathedral and police have limited traffic on roads surrounding the building while the renovation is underway, a project expected to last until June 2020.

Catholics wishing to attend Masses must enter through the main entrance only.

The entire renovation is expected to cost VND100 billion (US$4.41 million) and is being funded by donations from philanthropists and church-goers.

Two bicyclists ride past the back of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon in Ho Chi Minh City. Photo: Tuoi Tre

Here is a detailed plan of what will be repaired or replaced during the project:

The tile roof

Over the cathedral’s nearly 140-year history, its roof has been fixed many times to seal off leaks.

The current roof consists of six different types of roofing tile, though Phu Huu, Dong Nai and Wang Tai-Saigon tiles are most prominent throughout the building.

There are also 4,900 high quality imported French tiles left from the cathedral’s initial construction, produced by the Marseille St. André France tile company.

Yin-and-yang tiles commonly used in traditional Saigonese roofing are also used in the cathedral.

The steering board in charge of overseeing the renovation has imported over 27,000 roofing tiles from France’s Monier Building Group, which supplied the tiles for the cathedral’s initial construction, to replace the damaged ones.

Meanwhile, the yin-and-yang are being supplied by German-based Meyer-Holsen roofing company.

The tile roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is badly degraded as seen from the inside. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The tile roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is badly degraded as seen from the outside. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The tile roof of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon is badly degraded as seen from the outside. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The bell towers

The cathedral’s bell towers are made up of steel skeleton covered by zinc sheets intentionally painted to look like white tiles.

Both towers will have their zinc roofs replaced with brand-new Azengar zinc sheets supplied by France’s VMZINC company.

The tower’s brick foundation will be reinforced while preserving its signature delicate decorative patterns.

The bell towers of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The bronze bells

The six bronze bells installed at the Notre-Dame Cathedral are electric-powered, with unique patterns and the name of the cathedral’s architect, J. Bourad, carved onto their surfaces.

The system is connected to the giant clock on the front of the cathedral and the bells are meant to automatically chime every hour, though the ‘alarm clock’ system has been in disrepair since 1978.

The renovation steering board has selected France’s Bollée clockmaking company to fix the system.

The company, whose owner is coincidentally a descendant of those who built the cathedral’s bells, will install two additional bells into the towers, creating a set of chords that will be able to play thousands of songs.

The system of six bronze bells inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The stained glass windows

On the cathedral’s walls are multiple stained glass windows depicting characters and events described in the Holy Bible and are characteristically found in most Catholic churches around the world.

The artwork has been localized to feature oriental patterns and symbols, creating a harmony of western and eastern art values.

The stained glass was initially manufactured by French glassmaker Maison Lorin company.

New sheets of stained glass will be imported directly from France to replace those that have been broken.

The stained glass windows inside the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon. Photo: Tuoi Tre

The brick walls

The walls of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon are built with high-quality bricks that have been able to retain their reddish pink color without the build-up of moss on their surfaces.

Areas of the wall where the bricks are damaged or eroded will be replaced with new ones by French and German experts, according to the steering board.

The brick walls of the Notre-Dame Cathedral Basilica of Saigon are badly degraded and vandalized. Photo: Tuoi Tre

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