Plan to demolish Vietnam’s 135-year-old cathedral put on hold

By Viet Tuan   May 10, 2019 | 12:56 am PT
Plan to demolish Vietnam’s 135-year-old cathedral put on hold
The 135-year-old Bui Chu Cathedral in Vietnam's northern province of Nam Dinh. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy
Work on demolishing and rebuilding the Bui Chu Cathedral has been deferred to allow further discussion about its future.

A Friday announcement on the Bui Chu Diocese’s website said the plan to dismantle the church in the northern province of Nam Dinh, set to begin Monday, will be delayed after discussion among priests and those "who truly want the best for the church."

The announcement, signed by Priest Joseph Nguyen Duc Giang, head of the construction team at Bui Chu Cathedral, does not specify for how long the plan will be put on hold.

The plan of the Bui Chu Diocese to dismantle the church for rebuilding faced public opposition as soon as it was announced.

Soon after, 25 local architects sent a letter to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien and Nam Dinh Chairman Pham Dinh Nghi asking them to intervene and save the cathedral.

They said the cathedral was "an architectural, artistic and cultural heritage that our ancestors put much work into to create and a unique architectural work found nowhere else in Vietnam, belonging with other national cultural heritages.

"The structure not only uses European architecture but also combines Vietnamese elements, details and materials to create a unique artwork, demonstrating an east-west cultural exchange."

They also said they had inspected the structure and found it only slightly damaged, that its frame was still good and could last for long if reinforced. They pleaded that the PM acts to suspend its dismantling until the National Heritage Council makes a comprehensive assessment.

Then a delegation from the culture ministry, including officials of the cultural heritage department, came to the conclusion after a study trip on Tuesday that the church was badly degraded and many parts, such as the door and the dome, are cracked, and one of its two towers was no longer standing straight.

The delegation reported its findings and suggested solutions to the culture minister the same day.

The scale and architecture of the new church could be kept the same as the old one in the plan, head of the heritage department Tran Dinh Thanh said.

In talks with VnExpress on Wednesday, Bui Chu parishioners said the old cathedral carries great meaning for them, but its condition was so bad that it was dangerous, especially during the rainy and stormy season.

There have been many cases in which the ceiling plaster has fallen down suddenly. Sometimes it happened during the service and injured churchgoers, and one of them had to be hospitalized for emergency treatment once.

The electricity system in the church is also unsafe because all connectors have been in use for a long time and easy to cause short circuits, which could lead to fires, Do Kim Ngan, a 69-year-old local, said.

Vu The Du, 70, a parishioner living next to the church, said Bui Chu’s Bishop Thomas Vu Dinh Hieu initially had the intention of keeping the church unchanged and just fixing the downgraded parts. Many local and foreign experts had come to study its situation to map out a plan for fixing it, but, in the end, the project was treated as unfeasible because the church was seriously degraded and the climate near the sea would not allow keeping it for much longer, he said.

There have been ideas suggesting changes in several details of the church, but under the approved plan, the new church should replicate the old one, with full advantage taken of salvageable old materials in building it, he said.

Bui Chu stands 15 meters tall, with 35-meter-high towers, in Xuan Ngoc Commune, Xuan Truong District, 118 kilometers (73 miles) south of Hanoi. It was built in 1885 by Spanish Bishop Wenceslao Onate Thuan.

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