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One last look at 134-year-old Vietnamese cathedral on verge of disassembly

Saturday, May 04, 2019, 19:07 GMT+7
One last look at 134-year-old Vietnamese cathedral on verge of disassembly
A woman cycles past the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

Days from now, works will begin on the disassembly of a 134-year-old cathedral in Nam Dinh Province of north-central Vietnam, removing from existence an architectural marvel that has served the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in the Southeast Asian country.

Built in 1885 during French colonist era, the Bui Chu Cathedral serves a namesake diocese in Nam Dinh with over 412,000 Catholics.

It is the oldest Roman Catholic diocese in Vietnam, founded in 1533 during the first wave of European missionaries who arrived in the area to proselytize.

Bui Chu Cathedral is considered a one-of-a-kind architectural gem that holds a significant place in the history of Catholicism in Vietnam.

As the priest who oversaw its construction was Spanish, Bui Chu’s design incorporated elements of baroque architecture with inspirations from East Asian culture.

Elements of European baroque architecture are incorporated in the interior design of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Elements of European baroque architecture are incorporated in the interior design of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

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 Vietnamese architect Cao Thanh Nghiep.

Its structural strength comes from weight-bearing brick walls combined with rows of ironwood pillars juxtaposed among exquisite sculpted stone platforms, a unique construction technique unseen at any other Catholic churches in Vietnam, Nghiep said.

At 78 meters long, 27 meters wide and 15 meters high, Bui Chu is also one of the largest Catholic churches in the area.

Ironwood pillars inside the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam remain in good condition after 134 years. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Ironwood pillars inside the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam remain in good condition after 134 years. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

Bui Chu Cathedral is up for disassembly on May 13, according to a plan agreed upon by a council of priests and local Catholics.

Severe degradation and risks of collapse are cited as reasons for the demolition.

Construction of a new cathedral on the existing one’s grounds – bearing the same design and architecture albeit with entirely new materials – has also received approval from provincial authorities.

An aerial view of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
An aerial view of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

VND200 billion (US$8.57 million) worth of ironwood trunks have been imported and are being carved by artisans working at a camp set up near the cathedral to prepare for construction of the new building.

“The new cathedral will be bigger and better than the old one,” said a local official.

“The current building may be a heritage to architects, but to us it is a wreck that’s no longer safe for service,” he added.

A large number of visitors – including regular tourists, photographers, journalists, architects, and art researchers – have been drawn to the site in recent days to pay one last visit to the historical structure before its demolition, according to a woodworker.

An aerial view of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
An aerial view of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Reflection of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam is seen on a puddle. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Reflection of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam is seen on a puddle. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
The roof and bell towers of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam is badly degraded. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
The roof and bell towers of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam is badly degraded. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Signs of degradation are seen on a wall of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Signs of degradation are seen on a wall of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Elements of European baroque architecture are incorporated in the interior design of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Elements of European baroque architecture are incorporated in the interior design of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Elements of European baroque architecture are incorporated in the interior design of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Elements of European baroque architecture are incorporated in the interior design of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Children offer prayers inside the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Children offer prayers inside the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Parts of the roof of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam have fallen off, posing risks to churchgoers. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Parts of the roof of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam have fallen off, posing risks to churchgoers. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
The Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
The Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Elements of European baroque architecture are incorporated in the interior design of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Elements of European baroque architecture are incorporated in the interior design of the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Stained glasses are used inside the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre
Stained glasses are used inside the Bui Chu Cathedral in Nam Dinh Province, Vietnam. Photo: Nguyen Khanh / Tuoi Tre

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