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B'đơr – A unique church where religion harmonizes with local culture

Sophie Tran Sophie Tran

sophie.tran73@gmail.com

June 30, 2021 | 23:24

B'đơr church was established in 1962 as a gathering place for religious activities of the ethnic minority K’ho, located in Loc An hamlet of Bao Lam district.

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In late March 2021, Duong Vu Tan went on a pilgrimage to six churches in Lam Dong, a province in the central highlands of Vietnam. Coming to the B’đơr parish in Bao Lam district, Tan was fascinated by the architecture of the area. Father John Baotixita Tran Duc Long, B’đơr’s parish priest, took Tan around and told him stories about the unique church in the middle of central highlands.

B’đơr situates in Bao Lam district of Lam Dong province, about 4km away from the National Road 20. The church was established in 1962, originally as a chapel for weekly Mass gatherings of the K’ho ethnic minority group. The church was named after B’đơr village, where the K’ho resides. In 2003, the chapel was rebuilt into what is nowadays B’đơr church, designed like a stylized communal house often seen in the central highlands of Vietnam.

B'đơr – A unique church where religion harmonizes with local culture
The façade of B’đơr church. Photo: VnExpress

From the outside, B’đơr stands out with brown-yellow walls. One of the church’s most noticeable detail is the A-shaped roof over 14m high, resembling the roof of a traditional K’ho house. The front of the church also has a bronze roof of similar shape but lower. On the sides of the main entrance are two pillars covered in faux wood paint, on which the images of the 12 Apostles are carved.

B'đơr – A unique church where religion harmonizes with local culture
The five main areas inside B’đơr. Photo: VnExpress

Inside, the church is divided into five areas: the sanctuary, the secondary space on the wings, the heart of the church, the choir area, and the auxiliary space behind. The sanctuary stands out with the sculpture of the Cross of Jesus. The tiled wall at the back of the sculpture is carved with images of traditional jars and brocade of the K’ho, bringing the feeling that God is close to the life of locals.

The doors to the church are installed with clear glasses. Stained glasses are placed on top. When the light shines in from outside, stories from the Catholic Bibles are highlighted.

B'đơr – A unique church where religion harmonizes with local culture
The church's doors are installed with clear glasses, with stained glasses on top. Photo: VnExpress

One of B’đơr's special features is a series of open-sided ventilation holes made from pottery on the part of the wall touching the ceiling, inspired by the K’ho's bracelets, eating bowls, and jars. These holes are arranged in a zig-zag pattern, waving like the brocade details on the K’ho traditional clothes.

B'đơr – A unique church where religion harmonizes with local culture
Open-sided ventilation holes close to the ceiling, inspired by the familiar items to the K'ho. Photo: VnExpress

B’đơr is currently welcoming over 2,200 parishioners, most of whom are from the K’ho. At the end of the church is the choir area, with stairs leading to the upper floor. The lightboxes here have a star shape, which symbolizes the Trinity, the sun, the moon, and the K’ho jars lying symmetrically on both sides, indicating the close connection between God and humans.

B'đơr – A unique church where religion harmonizes with local culture
The choir area with stairs leading up. Photo: VnExpress

B’đơr’s ceiling is covered with corrugated iron sheets set to a 45-degree to reduce heat transfer. The gray-white tone of the sheets is a stark contrast to the brownness of the surroundings, adding to the aesthetics of the church.

B'đơr – A unique church where religion harmonizes with local culture
Corrugated iron sheets with a 45-degree slant to reduce heat transfer. Photo: VnExpress

B’đơr has two floors, which are the ground floor and the ceremony area. The corridors outside have multiple reliefs, depicting biblical stories in an indigenous way.

B'đơr – A unique church where religion harmonizes with local culture
Reliefs on the corridors, depicting stories in the Bible while adapting the K'ho culture. Photo: VnExpress

The walls at B’đơr are tiled, decorated meticulously with motifs of the jars, communal houses, red dirt road, and everyday life items of the K’ho.

B'đơr – A unique church where religion harmonizes with local culture
Tiled walls, decorated with motifs of everyday life items of the K'ho. Photo: VnExpress

“Visiting here to witness the architecture of the church with my own eyes, I truly appreciate K’ho's culture reflected in B’đơr. The architecture has many details inspired by familiar items to the K’ho. At the same time, the church's majesty and religious symbolism are kept intact. B’đơr's beauty lies in two factors: its aesthetics and sacredness,” said Vu.

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Sophie Tran