Sapa town’s Stone Church, also known as the Church of Our Lady of the Rosary, is a functioning Catholic church on the main square in one of Vietnam’s most popular tourist destinations.
- Opening hours: 06:00 to 20:30
- Entrance fee: Free
About the Stone Church
Sapa was part of France’s colonial empire from 1893 through to 1954, although from 1940 to 1945 it was occupied by Japanese forces. The Stone Church is one of three significant buildings on Sapa that remain intact from the period from period of French rule, the other two are what are now Hoang Lien Hotel and the main Sapa Tourism Information Centre. During the time of French colonial rule Sapa was a remote and difficult place to get to, located at an altitude of 1,500 metres above sea level and over 300 km by road from Hanoi. Sapa’s French rulers did relatively little to develop the town as a consequence which explains the absence of more European style architecture.
Sapa’s Stone Church was constructed in 1902 using the most basic of materials, in stark contrast to Saigon Notre-Dame Cathedral which constructed 25 years earlier using materials largely imported from France. The main structure of this 500 sqm church is constructed from roughly hewn stone blocks held together by a mortar made from sand. lime and molasses. The ceilings are made from iron, straw and lime. Nonetheless, this a sizeable and impressive building with a 20 metre tall bell tower supporting the weight of a 500 kg bell.
Sapa’s Stone Church saw little in the way of religious worship for the earlier part of its life. Services did not commence until 1935 and these stopped when the Japanese invaded in 1940. Christian worship then restarted from 1946 for only 8 years until the splitting of the country into North and South in 1954, ending French colonial rule of the town. For a long period the communist government of Vietnam, which initially was only a government of North Vietnam, took a hard line on religious worship, particular if that worship was not of Mahayana Buddhism or one of the Chinese religions. In 1995 the local authorities started relaxing the rules, the rice which was being stored in the church was removed, and notable effort by the local authorities was put into restoring the church.
The interior of Sapa’s Stone Church contrasts markedly with the roughly constructed exterior of the structure. Inside the church there is a striking use of white, yellow and brown tones from the varnished wood. On either side of the church are 16 stained glass windows, making 32 in total, depicting scenes from the bible. As churches in small regional towns in South East Asia go Sapa has one of the better ones, and it worth visiting.
The other striking thing about Sapa’s Stone Church is its congregation which is largely drawn from the minority ethnic groups wo make up the majority of the province’s inhabitants, in particular the Hmong. The church is located on the main town square in Sapa which used for a variety of purposes, the most famous of which is a venue for the Saturday night Love Markets. Traditionally the geographically dispersed hill tribes came together in Sapa, it being the largest town in the province, so that younger members of their villages could meet potential husbands and wives from other villages. In most Vietnamese hill tribe cultures marrying someone from your own village is taboo. The tradition in Sapa is that young men would play flutes to young ladies who would indicate their interest by staying for the duration of the whole recital and offering a gift in return at the end. The tradition of finding a wife or husband at Love Markets has declined in importance, however, the event still happens every week largely for the entertainment of tourists who sometimes give money to the performers.
Location of the Stone Church
The Stone Church is located 1.2 km walking distance from Sapa Bus Station.