Constructed in 1886, St Joseph’s Cathedral is the oldest church in Hanoi and one of the first major building works of the newly formed French colonial government of Vietnam. The cathedral is built in the distinctive Gothic Revival architectural style and bears a resemblance to the medieval era Notre-Dame Cathedral in Paris.
Visitors are permitted to enter the cathedral from Monday to Saturday between 08:00 and 11:00, and from 14:00 to 17:00. On Sundays opening hours are from 07:00 to 11:30 and 15:00 to 21:00. Admission is free and the cathedral is open to people of faiths. The square in front of the cathedral is also a popular gathering point and is open all hours.
About St Joseph’s Cathedral
St Joseph’s Cathedral is located 200 metres to the west of Hoan Kiem Lake in Hanoi’s Old Quarter. The cathedral is built on the site of an 800 year old pagoda constructed during the Ly Dynasty of the 11th Century. The pagoda was demolished to make way for the cathedral to be built. This act was one of the reason why Catholics in Vietnam faced over a decade of persecution by the Vietnamese state following reunification in 1975, and worshippers were not allowed to take mass in the cathedral again until 1990.
The most striking feature of St Joseph’s Cathedral is the two bell towers at the front of the building. These towers are 31.5 metres tall and are similar in design to those of Notre-Dame de Paris. Each bell tower has five bells which can be regularly heard ringing out across the city.
Like other medieval style cathedrals and churches, there is a high vaulted ceiling which runs the length of the nave carrying on to the high altar, with wooden ribs installed to support the ceiling.
At either side of the nave are highly ornate shrines to the Virgin Mary, mother of Jesus Christ.
The high altar of St Joseph’s Cathedral features several painted images of St Joseph, husband of Mary and carer to the infant Jesus. The choice of St Joseph as patron saint of the cathedral was made to pair the cathedral in Hanoi with the cathedral built a few years earlier in Saigon (Ho Chi Minh City) which was dedicated to St Mary.
Above the high altar are large stained glass windows which were imported from France by ship. Given the size of the windows, this must have been a difficult and expensive undertaking.
Location of St Joseph’s Cathedral
St Joseph’s Cathedral is located 1.7 km by road from Hanoi Railway Station in Hanoi’s historic Old Quarter.