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Experts decry plan to tear down 134-year-old cathedral in Vietnam

Thursday, May 02, 2019, 13:51 GMT+7
Experts decry plan to tear down 134-year-old cathedral in Vietnam
The Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province in north-central Vietnam. Photo: Tran Duong Anh / Tuoi Tre

A group of over 20 architects and conservationists in Vietnam are calling on government leaders to intervene a plan to disassemble a 134-year-old cathedral in the north-central province of Nam Dinh for construction of a new one.

Built in 1885 during French colonist era, the Bui Chu Cathedral in Xuan Truong District, Nam Dinh is a one-of-a-kind cultural heritage that holds a significant place in the history of Catholicism in Vietnam.

It serves the country’s oldest Roman Catholic diocese, founded in 1533, and incorporates elements of baroque architecture with inspirations from the Eastern culture.

Most materials used in construction of the cathedral were sourced locally, allowing the structure to withstand the tropical climate of north-central Vietnam for nearly one and a half centuries, according to Cao Thanh Nghiep, an architect known for being at the helm of a project to restore the People’s Court of Ho Chi Minh City.

The construction method used in this project is also very unique in that its structural strength comes from weight-bearing brick walls combined with rows of ironwood pillars juxtaposed among exquisite sculpted stone platforms, Nghiep said.

The interior of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province in north-central Vietnam. Photo: Tran Duong Anh / Tuoi Tre
The interior of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province in north-central Vietnam. Photo: Tran Duong Anh / Tuoi Tre

However, this architectural marvel is on the verge of demolition, according to a plan agreed upon by local Catholics and a council of hundreds of priests who run the cathedral.

According to the plan, the cathedral will be completely disassembled in May and a new cathedral will be built on its ground using completely new materials.

The new building will have the same design and architecture as the current one, a priest at Bui Chu told Tuoi Tre (Youth) newspaper.

Priests and local Catholics have agreed that construction of a new cathedral is necessary, as the current one is in a serious state of degradation that could pose danger to church-goers, the priest said.

Groups of workers have already set up camps near the Bui Chu Cathedral and begun carving wood pillars to be used in the new cathedral.

Dang Ngoc Cuong, chairman of Xuan Truong District, said priests at Bui Chu had been granted a construction permit for their new church since 2016.

“They followed all the required procedures so there’s no [legal] issue with the plan,” Cuong said.

“The discussion involved hundreds of priests and took years to reach an agreement, so it’s by no means a snap decision,” he added.

The decision has also received support from the local government and residents, Cuong said.

In a recent letter sent to the Vietnamese Prime Minister, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism, and chairman of Nam Dinh Province, a group of over 20 architects and conservationists called on government leaders to intervene and put a stop to this plan.

They claimed to have conducted a field survey of the Bui Chu Cathedral on April 29-30 under “remote supervision” by leading Vietnamese experts in architecture and conservation.

According to results of their survey, the church only suffered minor damages to its roof while the overall structural strength remains largely intact and could withstand many more years of use if restored correctly.

Moss that has built up on the building’s exterior can also be easily cleaned with modern technology, they said.

The group of experts proposed that a comprehensive evaluation of the cathedral’s condition be made by the Council of National Heritages before any plan of demolition is carried out.

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