St. Denis Church, Ba Na Hills, Vietnam

stained glass rose window
the rose window at St. Denis Church, French Village, Ba Na Hills, Vietnam

The Church at the French Village, Mercure Da Nang

Oddly, one of the most beautiful churches that I saw in Vietnam wasn't actually even a church at all. That is to say, it wasn't a "real" church. St. Denis is, in fact, a fake church. Nevertheless, it's a surprisingly beautiful example of Gothic architecture found in the most unusual of places: a four-star resort hotel at the top of a mountain in central Vietnam.

st denis church ba na hills vietnam
St. Denis, Ba Na Hills, Vietnam

Ba Na Hills is a mountaintop resort located just outside of Da Nang, Vietnam. Despite the year-round heat of Vietnam's large coastal city, Ba Na Hills is pleasantly cool. The first resorts were built on the hilltop a hundred years ago to serve as a holiday spot for French colonial officers and their families. Today, Ba Na Hills is home to the Mercure Da Nang French Village Resort, a four-star resort hotel reached only by the world's longest cable car. On the cable car ride up the mountain, visitors are treated to amazing views of the forests far below.

At the top of the mountain, visitors are transported from Vietnam to a provincial French village. Here, every building looks right out of a small country town. The center square of the village, just in front of the hotel's lobby and restaurant, is built around the Church of St. Denis. The small Gothic church is a picture-perfect example of French Gothic church architecture. In fact, it was intentionally designed to be so.

St. Denis Church at french village ba na hills vietnam
Gothic church at Ba Na Hills, Vietnam

The small church building is made of stone, with Gothic arches spanning the ceiling. Every window is a dazzlingly colorful stained glass, and the large rose window above the door casts pink, blue, and purple light into the interior of the church and down the aisle to the altar.

interior of st denis church ba na hills french village
stained glass interior at St. Denis Church, Ba Na Hills, Vietnam

A huge crucifix adorns the wall behind the altar, and behind it a pipe organ rises impressively vertically towards yet another stained glass window.

But the organ is fake. There is no keyboard, and the pipes don't make a sound. St. Denis has no priest, no choir, no congregation. Even the bible, spread open on the altar, is made of stone and comically large when up close to it. Everything at St. Denis is designed to look like a church. It's built for effect. Nevertheless, it is possible to find meaning, even in the artificiality of the church. A church, after all, isn't about the building. It's about the people. If anyone can find peace and spiritual refreshment while sitting on a pew inside St. Denis and contemplating the crucifix, then perhaps it has more meaning than it appears on the outside.

crucifix and pipe organ
crucifix and organ, St. Denis Church

Though one could call it a "fake" church, St. Denis does not shy away from the very real depictions of Christendom. The crucifix on the wall is very real, as are the carvings depicting Jesus and the Last Supper that adorn the doorway at the entrance to the church.

interior of church at mercure da nang hotel french village vietnam
interior of the church at Mercure Da Nang French Village at Ba Na Hills, Vietnam

Despite what St. Denis is (or isn't), I couldn't help but be impressed. And honestly, I did feel something special when I visited. Maybe I appreciated that something that is ostensibly a tourist attraction in a predominantly non-Christian country has no qualms about promoting Christianity.

beautiful stained glass windows inside the church at the French Village on Ba Na Hills
stained glass windows inside the church at the French Village on Ba Na Hills

What makes a church a church? That's my somewhat philosophical question for the week. St. Denis is a facade, a replica, a tourist attraction. It's made to emulate a church. And yet, the transcendent architecture and stained glass evoke the real thing. The church doesn't try to hide what it is, nor does it try to hide that it is, in fact, a facsimile of a church. The point of focus inside isn't the stained glass, nor the organ. It's the large crucifix hanging front and center.

Getting to St. Denis Church

St. Denis Church is located at the top of Ba Na Hills just outside of Da Nang, Vietnam. It's accessible only via cable car (the longest cable car in the world!), and is a part of the Mercure Danang Ba Na Hills French Village Resort.