The Cathedral of St. Joseph, Hanoi, Vietnam

the cathedral in Hanoi, Vietnam with a Vatican flag flying
St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi, Vietnam

Hanoi - Vietnam's most inspiring Gothic cathedral

It was hot, as it usually is in Vietnam's crowded and bustling capital. Walking past the banh mi stalls and trendy local cafes around Hanoi's Hoan Kiem Lake, it was impossible for me to miss the weathered but still impressive facade of St. Joseph's Cathedral, the mother church of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Hanoi.

a statue of mary at church in hanoi vietnam
St. Mary
Vietnam, officially a Communist country, has a sizable population of some 4 million practicing Catholics. This is due, in no small part, to Vietnam's long history as a part of Indochina, a colonial territory of France.

The beautiful Neo-Gothic cathedral was constructed in 1886, one of the first buildings constructed by the French colonial government. The cathedral, the center of Catholic influence in all of Vietnam, is appropriately impressive, and its iconic facade was designed in the style of Notre Dame in Paris and dedicated to Joseph, the patron saint of Vietnam.

stained glass windows at St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi, Vietnam
gorgeous stained glass windows inside St. Joseph's Cathedral
This isn't the place to get into the complicated issue of colonialism, but you can't deny that the French know how to build a cathedral. High above, the ceiling arched in the style of a classic European cathedral building, and beautiful stained glass windows filtered colored light into the cathedral from behind the altar.

interior of St. Joseph Cathedral Hanoi, Vietnam

Despite the heat of the day, the interior of St. Joseph's Cathedral was cool. Inside, it was quiet and peaceful, a few lone practitioners sat prayerfully in pews, or lit candles and knelt by a shrine. Hanoi is not generally thought of as a calm and peaceful city. The traffic is infamously bad, the heat and humidity are oppressive, and the pollution tends to be on the high side.

Though there's plenty of history and culture to see in Hanoi, it can be an exhausting place to explore. St. Joseph's Cathedral offers a peaceful respite for a moment from the chaos of the outside world. Here, you can sit in the peaceful quiet and refresh your soul before heading out on foot for you next adventure.

st. Joseph's Cathedral Hanoi Vietnam, Roman Catholic
worship at St. Joseph's Cathedral, Hanoi, Vietnam
Catholicism is very much a part of life in Vietnam, though much of the country's population adheres to Buddhism, Taoism, Confucianism or the ancient "triple teaching" which syncretizes all three.

Mass is held in both French and Vietnamese, a remnant of the country's past. On Sunday afternoons, the cathedral fills up despite its size. Those who were not able to get a seat in a pew park their motorbikes in the plaza in front of the cathedral and listen to the mass which is broadcast outside by speaker.

local Hanoians listen to mass on their motorbikes from St. Joseph Cathedral in Hanoi, Vietnam
listening to a sermon outside of St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi, Vietnam

How to get to St. Joseph's Cathedral in Hanoi

St. Joseph's is easy to find, located in the center of Hanoi's popular tourist area around Hoan Kiem Lake.

40 Nhà Chung, Hàng Trống, Hoàn Kiếm, Hà Nội, Vietnam