Saturday, November 17, 2012

Tan Dinh Church, District 3, Ho Chi Minh City

News about Vietnam rarely includes mention of the numerous sleepy, crumbling French Colonial churches that are to be found in every city and large town. Tourists mostly just drive by them, and to the local Vietnamese (unless they are parishioners) they are exotic remnants of a largely unknown past. I took my friend Kien - a Saigon native -  with me when I visited Tan Dinh church, and it was the first time he'd ever been inside a Catholic church.

In Ho Chi Minh City there are only a couple of these French Colonial beauties left - most of the really big Catholic churches were built in the 60s and 70s, and have a distinctive and quite groovy architecture all of their own.

Tan Dinh Church in District 3 is probably my favourite of the French churches.
It is always painted a vibrant and unexpected colour - salmon pink, orange, a kind of biscuit-colour, baby blue and mint green. The aesthetic eye overseeing this church's exterior is distinctly camp.

Inside it is largely untouched. Lots of faux-baroque statuary, a shrine to Saint Therese of Lisieux (the only one I know of in Vietnam), a shrine to St. Martin de Porres (there is one of these in every second church) and one to the Vietnamese martyrs (also reasonably common).

Unlike the infuriatingly chained-up Nha Tho Duc Ba in central Saigon, Tan Dinh church is always open, and is well worth checking out.
It is also situated right near Tan Dinh market, which is THE place to buy fabrics in Ho Chi Minh City. If you are searching for linens and cottons (reasonably rare at other markets), then this is the place to go (heads up - I always go to ABC Fabric).
There is also a doughnut shop just before the church called The Gioi Donut, and I have been known to drop by there ;-)

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