One of Nha Trang’s first and oldest buildings constructed primarily of steel reinforced concrete, it’s also sometimes called Stone Church. The foundation was begun on September 3, 1928 on Mot Hill in the center of town, overseen by Paris Foreign Missions Father Louis Valley, and inaugurated on May 14, 1933. Father Valley had also built the cathedral in Danang in 1923.
The 760-square-meter cathedral has a seating capacity of 600, and attracts a large following. The original masses were read in Latin, French, and English, but today services are held only in Vietnamese. The hill was much higher at the time of construction, and French engineers used 500 explosive charges to make the hilltop level and provide an access road.
The main entrance is on Thai Nguyen St., but if it’s closed you can follow the southern driveway off Nguyen Trai St., which is the route to take if you’re on wheels. As you go up the road that sweeps the left flank, you’ll wind past about 4,000 cinerary urns with plaques showing the names of prominent local Catholics, many of whom were interred after a nearby cemetery was razed to make way for a new railway building.
Also along the stone drive leading from the foot of the hill to the church are 14 stations of the cross and dozens of statues of saints. The grave of the church’s founder, Father Louis Valley is next to the southern driveway, and that of Bishop Marcel Piquet, the first bishop of Nha Trang, is also on the church grounds next to the steps above the square.
The church compound is paved with stone bricks, and encircling the complex are effigies of saints. There’s an interesting grotto dedicated to the Virgin Mary, built in 1940, where you’ll find a wooden statue of Christ surrounded by a motley collection of rectangular tribute plates, potted flowers, and a cascading bougainvillea tree.
Atop the gothic modeled steeple of the church is a grand four-faced clock tower, within which are three giant bells built by the famed Bourdon Carillons Company. The bells ring loudly at every hour and at times of mass, and can be heard throughout the surrounding neighborhoods. Stepping inside the church proper is like walking into a European abbey, complete with magnificent arches and medieval-looking s t a ined-gl a s s windows, all installed in 1933.
At the base of the church compound, and at the foot of the busy roundabout is the 2,500 square meter Ave Maria Square. Currently, there’s a massive construction project underway to refurbish the entire area. Previously, there was a large statue of the Virgin Mary atop a pavilion, while the rest of the square went largely ignored. It served as a parking lot during large congregations, and a make-shift café serving sugar cane juice in the cool evenings. When construction started there was a rendering of the finished project, showing a medieval-styled battlement looming over a newer statue of Mary, with the main square having flagstones crisscrossed with gardens.
Time will only tell when the renovations are complete. Outside the perimeter fence you can still see enterprising vendors who have set up plastic lounge chairs along the curb selling fruit and sugar cane juice to the buzz of the traffic circle.