Historical Religious Sites, Saigon/HoChiMinh City

Historical Religious Sites (Self Guided), Saigon/HoChiMinh City

For centuries, Vietnamese people have practiced Confucianism and Buddhism brought over from neighboring China. Added to these Eastern teachings, in the 16th century, was Christianity – introduced to Vietnam by Western missionaries. The result of this variety of faiths has become a mixture of gorgeous Confucian and Buddhist temples and Catholic churches in Ho Chi Minh City. Some of these sanctuaries are truly amazing from an architectural standpoint and with a great deal of history to boot.

The Notre Dame Cathedral of Saigon, officially known as the Basilica of Our Lady of The Immaculate Conception, is a stunning example of French colonial architecture. Built in the late 19th century, this Catholic cathedral features two bell towers and beautiful stained glass windows, making it a prominent landmark in the heart of the city.

Xa Loi Pagoda is one of the most important Buddhist temples in Ho Chi Minh City. This elegant pagoda, constructed in the mid-20th century, serves as a center for Buddhist worship and meditation. Its peaceful ambiance and intricate architectural details make it a serene place for visitors to explore and learn about Buddhism.

Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is another significant Buddhist temple, known for its exquisite woodcarvings. It is a place of tranquility and reflection, where visitors can observe Buddhist rituals and immerse themselves in the teachings of Buddhism.

Tan Dinh Church, otherwise known as the Pink Church, is a beautiful Catholic church with a distinctive pink façade. It stands out amidst the city's modern buildings and is a symbol of the enduring Catholic faith in Vietnam. The church's interior is equally captivating, with intricate decorations and religious artifacts.

Emperor Jade Pagoda, also known as Phuoc Hai Tu or Tortoise Pagoda, is a Taoist temple dedicated to the Jade Emperor, the supreme Taoist deity. Inside, you'll find an array of colorful statues, intricate woodwork, and a serene courtyard filled with incense. It is a place where Taoist and Buddhist traditions coexist harmoniously.

Visiting these religious sites provides an opportunity to explore Ho Chi Minh City's spiritual and cultural diversity. So, whether you are a believer or simply interested in history and culture, take some time to explore these locations, appreciate their architectural beauty, and learn about the faiths that have shaped the city's identity over the years.
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Historical Religious Sites Map

Guide Name: Historical Religious Sites
Guide Location: Vietnam » Saigon/HoChiMinh City (See other walking tours in Saigon/HoChiMinh City)
Guide Type: Self-guided Walking Tour (Sightseeing)
# of Attractions: 5
Tour Duration: 2 Hour(s)
Travel Distance: 5.9 Km or 3.7 Miles
Author: vickyc
Sight(s) Featured in This Guide:
  • Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon
  • Xa Loi Pagoda
  • Vinh Nghiem Pagoda
  • Tan Dinh Church
  • Emperor Jade Pagoda
Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon

1) Notre-Dame Cathedral of Saigon (must see)

This Roman Catholic cathedral constructed by the French colonists is the seat of the Archbishop of Saigon. The red building with two pointed bell towers is a distinctive landmark of Ho Chi Minh City.

The French Bishop Isidore de Colombert laid the foundation stone of the Saigon Notre Dame Basilica in 1877. The building was designed in France and built under the supervision of a well known French engineer named Bourad. It was consecrated on Easter Day, 1880 in the presence of the then Governor of Cochin China, Charles Le Myre de Vilers. The church became a basilica in 1959 after receiving approval from the Vatican.

The Notre Dame Basilica is made from construction material imported directly from France. The bricks were made in Marseilles and the stained glass that once adorned the windows came from Chartres. It has a neo-Romanesque design with three arched façade. The two bell towers are 57.6 meters high and hold six bronze bells. Each tower is topped by a 3.5-meter high cross. In 1959, Bishop Joseph Pham Van Thien of the Saigon parish installed a statue of the Holy Mother in front of the church. In 2005, a story that the statue had shed tears circulated and thousands of visitors came to view the phenomenon. The clergy later denied the occurrence of the incident.
Xa Loi Pagoda

2) Xa Loi Pagoda

The Xa Loi Pagoda is the largest pagoda in Ho Chi Minh City. The headquarters of the Vietnamese Buddhist Association was located here until 1983 and it later served as its second main office until 1993.

The Xa Loi Pagoda was designed by architects Tran Van Duong and Do Bá Vinh to enshrine the relics of Gautama Buddha. Construction began in the year 1954 and it was consecrated in 1958. It became the scene of raids and vandalism by armed forces loyal to the Roman Catholic president of South Vietnam, Ngo Dinh Diem, in 1973. In the face of protests by the Buddhist majority community, seeking civil rights, the pagoda became the center of Buddhist resistance. It was damaged; several monks and nuns were either killed or imprisoned, and the 80-year-old Buddhist patriarch arrested and placed in a military hospital.

Visitors are greeted by a Chinese style statue of Quan Am, the Goddess of Mercy. The main hall inside is dominated by a bronze sculpture of Gautama Buddha crafted by artists from Bien Hoa, located north of Saigon. The walls are decorated with a series of panels made by Dr. Nguyen Van Long of the Gia Dinh Art School. The complex boasts the highest bell tower in Vietnam. It stands 32 meters high and weighs two tons. The pagoda is located amidst beautifully landscaped gardens complete with a koi pond and bonsai trees.
Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

3) Vinh Nghiem Pagoda

The Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is one of the largest pagodas in Vietnam. It was built in traditional Vietnamese style but unlike other pagodas in the country, it was the first to be built with concrete rather than wood.

The Vinh Nghiem Pagoda stands on the site of a wooden Ly Dynasty pagoda that dates back to 1225. Two monks from North Vietnam, Thich Tam Giac and Thich Thanh Kiem, worked to rebuild the old pagoda in concrete ensuring durability. The design was by eminent architect, Nguyen Ba Lang and it was built between 1964 and 1971.

The Vinh Nghiem Pagoda is a complex of several unique buildings. All the structures have Chinese style roofs with upturned cornices. The Avalokitesvara Stupa in the left part of the upper courtyard is the largest Buddhist building in Vietnam. It consists of seven floors. A large bell donated by the Japanese Buddhist Sanga hangs next to the Stupa. The ground floor has the offices of the temple, a library and an auditorium. The grand sanctuary is on the second floor and visitors are not allowed. Another tower with a curved roof holds urns containing ashes of Buddhist monks. The quiet secluded Vinh Nghiem Pagoda becomes a crowded bustling venue during Buddhist festivals.
Tan Dinh Church

4) Tan Dinh Church

The Tan Dinh Church was built by French colonists in the late 19th century. The parish church is the second largest next to the Notre Dame Basilica in Ho Chi Minh City.

Construction of the building began in 1870 and The Tan Dinh Church was completed and opened to the public in 1876. The structure was enlarged in 1896 and later in 1926. Two large bell towers housing 6 bells were built near its gate. A wealthy family gifted three altars made of Italian marble in 1929. The church building underwent a major restoration and renovation in 1976 when it celebrated its 100th anniversary.

The Tan Dinh Church has a pink façade with decorative designs. The main tower has a 3 meter high bronze cross. There are two smaller lamp towers with air holes and patterns. The dome is covered with fish scale shaped tiles and the galleries are adorned with statues of angels. The large chancel has gothic pillars that lead to the main altar. There are statues of female saints to the left and of male saints to the right. The Tan Dinh Church is an active place of worship with a vibrant congregation who are involved in many charity activities.
Emperor Jade Pagoda

5) Emperor Jade Pagoda (must see)

Also called the Tortoise Pagoda, this ancient temple was built in the year 1909 by the Cantonese Chinese community of the city. A statue of the Taoist God of the heavens made of jade is the main object of worship.

Visitors enter the temple from a crowded street filled with shops and houses through a traditional Chinese temple gate. The Jade statue at the center is dedicated to the Taoist God of the heavens. The deity is said to decide who will enter the heavens and whose entry will be rejected. The statue of Kim Hua, the Goddess of fertility is in the room to the left of the central hall and another room has the statue of the King of Hell surrounded by his minions. The interiors are filled with paintings portraying Taoist and Buddhist mythical stories and sculpture depicting the ten levels of hell and the apocalypse from Chinese mythology. The temple is an active one and the smell of burning incense hangs heavily in the atmosphere. There is a large concrete pond in front of the temple filled with large turtles.

Why You Should Visit:
The Temple is old and holds some magnificent wood carvings, but what makes it unique is that it is alive (still a place for reverence) аnd іnсrеdіblу аtmоsрhеrіс wіth іnсеnsе smоkе hаngіng hеаvу іn thе аіr.

Be sure to make your way through the hallways and upstairs to see all there is to see.

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