Hanoi’s most important church, St Joseph’s Cathedral, also known as Nha Tho Lon, was inaugurated in 1886, and pro- vides a focal point for the city’s Catholics. Built in the late NeoGothic style, the building, with its majestic spires, is architectur ally similar to a cathedral that might be found in any French provincial town. The interiors, which are more noteworthy, feature an ornate altar, French stainedglass windows, and a basrelief painting of the Three Kings, complete with camels, on the cathedral’s rear wall. St. Joseph’s is usually packed to capacity on Sundays and on major holidays such as Easter and Christmas. However, on most days, its main doors are generally closed except during mass, but it is possible to gain entry via the side door.
Located to the east of the cathedral is Chua Ba Da or Stone Lady’s Pagoda. Dating back to the 15th century, the pagoda was once known as Linh Quang or Holy Light. However, according to legend, the discovery of a woman’s stone statue when the pagoda was being restored led to its more common local name. Entered by a narrow alley, Chua Ba Da is an oasis of tranquility in the heart of old Hanoi. The pagoda features several statues of the Thich Ca or Sakyamuni Buddha, and also contains two large, antique bronze bells.