Built in from 1863 and 1880, this towering structure built by the French for the people of Vietnam is by far the best central attraction in all of Saigon which commands a huge following from visitors and backpackers from all over the globe. The Notre Dame of Saigon Basilica is also officially called the Basilica of Our Lady of Immaculate Concepcion is located at the heart of Saigon. It has a twin bell tower which reaches the height of 190 feet.
The first cornerstone of this mammoth and grand Dame was placed on March 28, 1863 and two years after, the church (a wooden one) was erected and was called the “Saigon Church”. Since it was made entirely of wood, termites soon catches up with it which made the services be held, not in the church but rather in the Guest Chamber of the French Palace designed for its administrative governor in Vietnam. The same palace was then converted into a seminary until a new church was made and constructed.
Since the Notre Dame of Saigon Basilica was an important landmark built by the French, all materials used to construct it were imported from France. The brick that we see outside the Basilica was made in Marseille, a region in France. Because of its know quality, the bricks retained its color which is evident until today.
As the new site was determined and the materials for the new Basilica were ready, the first cornerstone for the now, Notre Dame of Saigon Basilica was laid on October 7, 1887 and after three years, it was completed and inaugurated.
On this morning of January 1, 2012, on my last day of jaunt from Cambodia and Vietnam, I attended my first Mass Service at the grand Notre Dame of Saigon Cathedral Basilica. I was taking photos of its from the outside, walked into its impressive doors then silently bowed as the New Year’s day mass was held and officiated by Father Jun from the Diocese of California.
This grand Dame of Saigon is indeed one of its highest feats, in terms of architecture, culture, arts, heritage and religion. The Notre Dame of Saigon Basilica was officially declared as one by the Vatican who still appoints Archbishops in Hanoi, Hue and Saigon. This is where I also saw the huge influence of Filipino Catholics. As they say, everywhere in the world, if one needs to see and meet Filipinos, on any given Sunday, go to a Cathedral, Basilica or a small church, they are there, in hundreds and in prayer, for themselves and for those they left at home.
What made this Notre Dame of Saigon Basilica stand out from among the greatest architectural wonder? It lies in its foundations, for it was design to bear ten-times the weight of the entire Basilica. The one thing I learned while asking around when I saw the great Immaculate Concepcion statue in front of the Basilica was replied by a smile among the Catholics I have met. It was in 2005 that the Statue of the Blessed Immaculate Concepcion shed tears and devotees of the Blessed Virgin Mary flocked to the Notre Dame Cathedral Basilica to experience the wonder although it was later on declared by the Vatican that there were no truths on the crying Blessed Immaculate Concepcion but still, until the first Sunday of 2012, when I was in Saigon, faith of those Vietnamese Catholics I have seen were high and one that can be learned by others too.
As a backpacker who wishes to learn about how other countries and peoples live their faith, I have seen it in Saigon. A journey that made me felt aware of how others will be able to practice their faith, be an inspiration and maintains its own rich cultural heritage and tradition. For this grand Dame of Saigon, nothing is left to chances when it comes to inspiration and I am, as was with others who visited her, captivated by her beauty and grace. I have found my peace at the Notre Dame of Saigon Basilica.