Although the majority of religious sites that we visited in Vietnam were temples and pagodas, we did enjoy seeing the St. Joseph’s Cathedral when we were in Hanoi. It is a classic, Gothic-style cathedral with a large courtyard in front of the church. During our visit to the cathedral, there were many people enjoying the open space in front of the church and many different vendors selling flowers, fruit, and other items around the courtyard. There are also several cafés, bistros, and restaurants around the church and we enjoyed a cup of egg coffee at one of them and sat and did some people watching.
We visited Vietnam in the month of November, so workers were busy setting up a nativity scene during our visit to the St. Joseph’s Cathedral. The cathedral was built in the late 1800’s and was designed to resemble the Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris, France. The inside of the cathedral is quite stunning with tall, narrow stained-glass windows and understated ceilings. The artwork, altar, and memorials are very beautiful and quite colorful in contrast to the white walls.
As you walk behind the cathedral, you will come across a wall with a golden relief depicting key moments in the life of Jesus. Next you will find a cave that has a painting inside representing the birth of Jesus. Finally, there is a large mural on the wall that shows the three wise men as they follow the Star of David to Jerusalem. It is not something that we have seen at the cathedrals that we have seen in other parts of the world.
Located in the Old Quarter of Hanoi, it is certainly worth taking the hour or so to visit St. Joseph’s Cathedral. We would also recommend visiting one of the bistros and sitting outside to watch the bustling area. Considering how busy Hanoi is in general, spending time in this tranquil setting is quite relaxing.