The Phat Diem Cathedral
Since ancient times, the region of Kim Son, Phat Diem, has been part of the inlet of Than Phu, confluence of the rivers Hong and Can in the ocean. Nature has made this place especially dangerous with treacherous currents. A Vietnamese folk song says:
“On the waters of Than Phu / By taking it well you will cross. / Otherwise you drown.”
From there, the sea and the water give way to dry land, and in 1829, Nguyen Cong Tru, a Vietnamesse Mandarin and Secretary for Agrarian Affairs, formed these lands into a district named Kim Son, comprising seven cantons, sixty villages, with about 21 square miles of paddy field. The villages of the region were arranged by Nguyen Cong Tru with a North/South orientation which, along which numerous small rivers flowed along like dragons swimming to the ocean. The names of the villages are beautiful: Tri Chinh (keeping on doing justice),
Thu Trung (observing the faithfulness),
Luu Quang (leaving behind the illumination),
Huong Dao (showing the right way),
Hoa Lac (Peace and Joy),
And Phat Diem (“shining beauty”).
The temple of the Mandarin Nguyen Cong Tru is built on the location of the house where he once lived in the village of Lac Thien, Quang Thien commune in Kim Son. It honors the memory and work which laid the basis for development of the entire region of Kim Son. Forty years later, another succeeded him in the same region for the same mission of developing new lands, he also gave to Kim Son and Phat Diem a priceless heritage, his name was Father Tran Luc, or Father Six.
Father Six, called Huu in his childhood, was born in 1825 in Đạo Đức, Ke Dua parish, which now belongs to the Diocese of Thanh Hoa. These limestone mountains are part of the landscape that would have been familiar to him as a child. Was it this childhood with such landscape, bordered by rivers and mountains, that inspired the young boy? Later, he dreamed of building an architectural complex that would be the marriage of water, stone, and wood.
Further still, amid this forest of stone, near his village stands a kind of natural stone bust that villagers called “La Vong.”
Here is the parish of Ke Dua, wrapped in an expansive and quiet space. The church was constructed several years after the death of Father Six. Yet this place is the place where the child Huu had learned catechism and attended services. There is no doubt that this landscape made its mark on his personality and influenced his spiritual and religious fate. At 15, Huu came to live with Father Tieu in Bach Bat parish, now called Bach Lien parish in the Diocese of Phat Diem. There are still, to this day, the mountain ranges, the vast fields, and the church that forever marked the childhood memory of Huu. The present church was built in 1906 on the same foundation as the older one which was familiar to Huu.
In this still, quiet village along the River Day that our seminarian spent time studying. He had the opportunity to mingle with saintly professors: Father Paul Le Bao Tinh, Father Peter Nero Francoise Bac, and Father Venard Theophanes Ven. This period marked the end of his theological studies. In 1858, our seminarian was ordained deacon, and that year he was arrested by the Court for his religious convictions and was exiled to Lang Son. This is where he got the nickname Cu Sau, Venerable Six. Being a deacon is the sixth and last step to the priesthood. The difficulties of his life made him even more determined with an outstanding energy and was also the opportunity to form him so that later on he could build and leave behind a great masterpiece that is the pride of sacred architecture in Vietnam.
In this land, with its tangled system of rivers and channels, this priest skillfully used the force of the water to transport a million tons of wood and stone for his monumental achievement. During thirty-four years in this parish of Phat Diem, from 1865 to 1899, he slowly realized the whole cathedral of Phat Diem with rudimentary means.
The General Introduction
In an area of about 323,000 square feet, Father Six built ten buildings of various sizes which now comprise the architectural complex of Phat Diem Cathedral.
The first structure to be erected was the Sepulchre Mount in 1875. It was used to measure the level of land subsidence in the marshy soil. Later, it was renamed after the Mount of the Nativity.
The Mount of Gethsemane reminds us of the moment when Christ prayed in the Garden of Olives on the eve of his Passion. It was built in 1896, and in 1925 was dedicated to Our Lady of Lourdes, whose statue was donated by a Yunnan Missionary that year.
The Bethlehem Grotto is in a natural style, decorated by two aging Plumeria. It was built in 1898 and renamed Mount Calvary in 1957.