Minor Basilica of Our Lady of La Vang is a Roman Catholic sanctuary, commemorating a vision of the Blessed Virgin Mary that was seen there in 1798. An important site of pilgrimage for Catholics in Vietnam, as well as for the Catholic Overseas Vietnamese community. The Apparition Shrine, which was the area where Our Lady appeared, had a renovation in 2008. Areas surrounding the shrine including the Main Sanctuary Gate, were renvoated.
Despite persecutions and wars since the time Mary is believed to have first appeared here 200 years ago, Our Lady of Lavang Shrine has remained a strong faith symbol for Vietnamese Catholics. Nearly 100,000 people joined Archbishop Etienne Nguyen Nhu The, apostolic administrator of Hue, to open the bicentennial jubilee at the shrine, located 40 miles north of Hue in central Vietnam.
Destroyed many times over the years, the shrine was recently rebuilt complete with a 100-foot-wide, 1,500-foot-long plaza. Also standing at the pilgrimage site are portion of the bell tower and the back wall of the church destroyed during the so-called “fiery summer” battles of 1972 during the Vietnam War.
Mary is believed to have first appeared in Lavang in 1798 to console persecuted Christians in Vietnam. Some say “La” (leaf) “Vang” (herbal seeds) refers to the name of a tree, often a place of hiding for persecuted Christians, while others say it means a noise by villagers beating on household utensils to chase away wild animals. Nevertheless, villagers of that time who heard about a sacred lady appearing at the banyan tree decided to build a platform and fences around it.
By the 1820s, people from three neiboring villages built a small thatched temple on the site, and then offered the land and the temple to Catholics. The parish priest converted the temple into a church. Pope John XXIII granted the buildings the status of cathedral, and the bishops of Vietnam declared it the national Marian shrine.
Known to the World
In 1886, after the persecution had officially ended, Bishop Gaspar ordered a church to be built in honor of the Lady of Lavang. Because of its precarious location and limited funding, it took 15 years for the completion of the church of Lavang. It was inaugurated by Bishop Gaspar in a solemn ceremony that participated by over 12,000 people and lasted from August 6th to 8th, 1901. The bishop proclaimed the Lady of Lavang as the Protectorate of the Catholics. In 1928, a larger church was built to accommodate the increasing number of pilgrims. This church was destroyed in the summer of 1972 during the Vietnam war.
The history of the Lady of Lavang continues to gain greater significance as more claims from people whose prayers were answered were validated. In April of 1961, the Council of Vietnamese Bishops selected the holy church of Lavang as the National Sacred Marian Center . In August of 1962, Pope John XXIII elevated the church of Lavang to The Basilica of Lavang. On June 19, 1988, Pope John Paul II in the canonizing ceremony of the 117 Vietnamese martyrs, publicly and repeatedly recognized the importance and significance of the Lady of Lavang and expressed a desire for the rebuilding of the Lavang Basilica to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the first apparition of the Lady of Lavang in August of 1998.
During much of the 18th century, Vietnam was embattled in various struggles for power and domination. The northern regions of the country fell under the authority of the lords of the Trinh family, while in the southern realm the Nguyen lords took power. As the eighteenth century drew toward its close, both of their rules were shaken and threatened by peasant uprisings and emerging rebel forces.
The strongest among the many uprisings was led by the three brothers from Tay Son. In short order, they overthrew the Nguyen lords and defeated the Trinh lords to restore national unity for the first time since the decline of the Le Dynasty. A Tay Son brother was enthroned to be Emperor Quang Trung. In 1792 he passed away and left the throne to his son who became Emperor Canh Thinh.
Meanwhile, Nguyen Anh continued his insurgency in trying to reclaim his throne. Earlier in his run from the Tay Son rebels in 1777, he found refuge on Phu Quoc Island, where Monsignor Pierre Pigneau de Behaine of the Society of Foreign Missions directed a seminary for youths from neighboring countries. The bishop persuaded him to seek help from King Louis XVI of France.
Emperor Canh Thinh knew that Nguyen Anh received support from the French missionary and worried that the Vietnamese Catholics would also endorse his reign. He began to restrict the practice of Catholicism in the country. On August 17, 1798, Emperor Canh Thinh issued an anti-Catholic edict and an order to destroy all Catholic churches and seminaries. A most grievous persecution of Vietnamese Catholics and missionaries began and lasted until 1886.
Even after Nguyen Anh succeeded in reclaiming his throne as Emperor Gia Long (1802-1820), his successors, Emperor Minh Mang (1820-1840), Emperor Thieu Tri (1841-1847) and Tu Duc (1847-1884), the last Nguyen Emperor, continued the vehement campaign against Catholics, ordering punishments that ranged from branding their faces to death by various cruel methods for Vietnamese Catholics and missionary priests.