Phat Diem Cathedral Ninh Binh is the place for you if you want to see how the West met the East in Vietnam. This church in Ninh Binh is the combination of Western architecture and Eastern culture, bringing out a unique beauty that is loved by local people and tourists alike.
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Phat Diem Cathedral was built in 24 years, from 1875 to 1898, completely of stone and wood that are locally available in Ninh Binh. Only counting the preparation phase, which is mostly extracting materials from limestone mountains, cost the builders a decade.
Located in Ninh Binh province, it is one of the most famous destinations for religious tourists in the North of Vietnam. The cathedral, built by Father Tran Luc, is in Kim Son District of Ninh Bình Province in the Phat Diem town, a Catholic area also called Kim Son. It is approximately 120 kilometers away from Hanoi, so if your starting point is Hanoi, you can reach this destination within a day.
Phat Diem Cathedral complex consists of a lake, a cathedral, a stone church, a Bellhouse and three artificial grottoes. On the very first step into Phat Diem Cathedral, visitors will be attracted to the square lake at the leading way into the cathedral.
The Phat Diem church was built in the Sino-Vietnamese-style blended with stone walls built in European Gothic style. Phat Diem Cathedral’s architecture remarkably resembles a typical Eastern temple which you can find everywhere in Vietnam.
It also recreated the shape of the word “King” in Chinese, as a sign of power for the church and the people there. Even the calming lake sitting in the front and a small hill resting in the back of the site is a part of the Asian architecture that follow the Ying – Yang.
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For the cathedral, its construction completed in 1891. The official name of this main cathedral is the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary. On the right side of the church’s front, there is a stone plate carved with a poet to show gratitude for Saint Maria.
An interesting fact is that the main construction part only took three months to finish the whole building, but the preparation for materials took place in the previous decade. For the wood, it was commissioned from Nghe An, Thanh Hoa, and Son Tay. Stones were chosen from Heaven mountain, which is 30 kilometers away from Phat Diem town.
Particularly, precious stones were mined from Nhoi Mountain. It was 20 tons of stone and the great thing is that a heavy amount of stone was transported with human labor at that time.
To get to Phat Diem Cathedral, first, you need to get to Ninh Binh. From Ninh Binh city center, it will be a 28-kilometer route to Phat Diem Cathedral. If you take a taxi, it will cost you about 400.000 VND (20 US$).
From Hanoi, you can consider these means of transportation in order to get to Ninh Binh city center.
A train ticket will cost you from 100.000 VND (5 US$) to 200.000 VND (10 US$) and a 2.5 hours journey to travel from Hanoi to Ninh Binh. The train is quite comfortable and you will be able to enjoy the beautiful changing scene from the windows. To buy the ticket, You can either go to the stations or book online at the railway website.
Or you can choose the bus. Bus to Ninh Binh can be a public bus (the cheapest, and can be the most cramming), open-tour bus (the most common choice) and limousine (quite convenient but will be more expensive). You can get a seat on the bus by buying a ticket at the bus stations, bus agency or even through making a phone call.
The most flexible choice to get to Phat Diem Cathedral will be renting a private car, especially when you go in a large group. This is super convenient, private and enjoyable because you will have all the space for yourselves. The only problem is the renting fee can be high.
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One of the most famous thing about Phat Diem Cathedral is the mass. If you want to find a Catholic space for yourselves, you should note down these times.
On weekdays, there will be two masses at 5:00 and 17:15. On Sunday, you will be able to attend the masses at 5:00, 6:30, 8:00, 15:00 and 17:00. You can choose to attend any mass that fit your schedule, and of course, it will be up to the standard just like any other good mass.
The Phat Diem church is opened for everyone and there’s no entrance fee. You just have to pay for the parking ticket!
At Phat Diem Stone Cathedral, the main things for you to do will be sightseeing. Therefore, here are the very main parts of the cathedral and some information just for you:
First is the Gate. Just like other parts of Phat Diem Church, its style is combined from the West and the East. There is a cross placed upon a lotus flower at the top of the main gate as a symbol for Buddha’s meditating pose. The special thing about the gate is that it has three stone entrances altogether, which look like the traditional Eastern main gate of temple and pagoda.
Next is the Lake. It is a rectangular lake located in the front of the cathedral. There are smalls island built in the middle of the lake, with a Jesus Christ’s statues on them – a part of the Catholic decoration of the cathedral.
The main church of Phat Diem Cathedral is named Phuong Dinh. Its construction ended in 1899 and it was the last building of Father Tran Luc since he passed away later. The Phuong Dinh Church’s main entrance looks to the South with a height of 25 meters, a width of 17 meters and a length of 24 meters.
Just like most of the other construction in Phat Diem Cathedral, all of its three floors are made from stone. In the middle of the first floor is a stone, rumored to have once been the belongings of the king of the Ho Dynasty from seven centuries ago.
On the second floor, you can find a huge drum standing there. It is used only on Sundays or during main ceremonies, so if you want to listen to the drum, you’d better going for the Sunday Masses.
You will also be able to find the four towers with four saints’ statues. Interestingly, their facial features bear a great resemblance to the Eastern Mandarins – yes, this is the East in the Western building.
Lastly, on the third floor, you will find a giant bell that is older than us all, since it was made in 1890. Once it rings, it is believed to echo ten kilometers from the Church.
At the entrance of the cathedral, there is five nine-meter tall stone entrance with the sculptures of six angles. And beneath each of the sculptures is a sentence of learning for praying.
However, the first completed building of Phat Diem Cathedral complex is the stone chapel. It was built in 1883 and all from stone – from the floor to the rooftop and every decoration. The small chapel interior heavily resembles a cave.
The highlight of the stone chapel is the sculptures of the Vietnamese four precious and symbolic plants: Cedrus tree, Bamboo, Chrysanthemum, and Ochna tree. The meaning of these sculptures is from Confusion, as these four trees represent the characteristics of a gentleman and four seasons in a year.
Cedrus tree is the spring and long-lasting life. Bamboo symbolizes the summer and honesty. Chrysanthemum means autumn and wisdom. Ochna tree is regarded as overcoming aggressive winter, and elegance.
That is all you need to know before planning a trip to Phat Diem Cathedral. For further information and best itinerary, feel free to ask us. Original Ninh Binh Tours local experts are always here to help you out!
The Original Ninh Binh Tours was created to be the first Ninh Binh travel company in Vietnam offering unique original trips, eagerly taken up by the locals and introduced to the inner life of this place. If you want to have a uniquely original experience during your time in Ninh Binh, it is our pleasure to accompany!