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135-year-old cathedral finally goes down, to get like-for-like replacement

By Viet Tuan   July 19, 2020 | 06:28 pm PT
135-year-old cathedral finally goes down, to get like-for-like replacement
Workers remove the tiled roof of Bui Chu Cathedral in the northern province of Nam Dinh, July 19, 2020. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.
Bui Chu Cathedral in northern Vietnam is being demolished and will be rebuilt at the same site based on its original, 135-year-old blueprint.

On Sunday the tiled roof of the cathedral in Xuan Truong District, Nam Dinh Province, was dismantled, and the demolition is expected to be completed by next month.

Interiors and building materials that can be used again will be kept intact. They include stones in the column base and on the floor, iron doors and others.

In February parishioners had taken ornaments and furniture outside the cathedral for use later.

Priest Joseph Nguyen Duc Giang, head of the construction team, said the new cathedral would be built exactly like the former one.

Church services are being organized temporarily at a makeshift church next door.

The old cathedral (L) seen against a picture depicting its new design. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

The old cathedral (L) seen against a picture depicting its new design. Photo by VnExpress/Giang Huy.

Built in 1885 by Spanish Bishop Wenceslao Oñate, the cathedral made headlines last year when the local diocese announced plans to rebuild it. Many people, including architects, protested against this, citing its unique historical, artistic and cultural status.

Twenty five architects wrote to Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Minister of Culture, Sports and Tourism Nguyen Ngoc Thien and Nam Dinh Province Chairman Pham Dinh Nghi asking them to stop the demolition.

The letter said the cathedral was "an architectural, artistic and cultural heritage that our ancestors put much work into to create, a unique architectural work found nowhere else in Vietnam and of a piece 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 fusion."

They also said they had inspected the structure and found it was only slightly damaged, and its frame was still good and could last long if reinforced. They pleaded with the PM to stop its demolition until the National Heritage Council made a thorough assessment.

A delegation from the culture ministry, including officials from the cultural heritage department, visited the place in May last year and came to the conclusion that the church was indeed badly degraded, the door and dome were cracked and one of its two towers was no longer standing straight.

Bui Chu parishioners said the old cathedral had great significance for them, but its condition was so bad that it was dangerous. Plaster from the ceiling fell frequently, sometimes injuring churchgoers, one so badly that the person had to be hospitalized, they said.

The electricity system was also unsafe and threatened to cause short circuits and fires, they added.

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