Many architects and cultural heritage experts have been horrified to find that Catholic authorities in Vietnam are going ahead with plans to demolish a 135-year-old cathedral and to build a larger replica in its place.
Officials made the decision to tear down Bui Chu Cathedral, an architectural treasure that blends European and Vietnamese styles, because the building’s state of disrepair presented a danger to parishioners.
Demolition of the church in Nam Dinh Province, which is widely considered the birthplace of Catholicism in Vietnam—which is officially a Communist country—is already underway, despite attempts from external parties to stop it, and is expected to be completed by early August.
Last year, a group of 25 independent architects signed a letter asking the Vietnamese state to protect the cathedral as a heritage site because of its unique architectural style, which includes French Baroque as well as traditional Vietnamese elements. A media furor temporarily put a stop to the demolition plans, which are now going ahead in earnest. Vietnam’s ministry of culture did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
A former resident of Hanoi and project director of a sustainable urban development center with the Vietnam Academy of Social Sciences, Martin Rama, wrote an open letter to the church authorities last May warning that “history will not be kind with this decision,” and that the world would watch the move in anguish akin to that felt when the Notre Dame cathedral in Paris went up in flames.
The church allegedly rejected an offer from Rama to buy land adjacent to the property to allow room for a new building, and to raise funds to restore the old cathedral, which would cost an estimated $3 million, according to the New York Times. Artnet News reached out to the cathedral’s bishop for comment but did not hear back by press time.