Holy land

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 The bell tower, the only construction in the La Vang Holy Land left after the Vietnam War.

The year was 1798.

Emperor Canh Thinh of the Tay Son Dynasty had issued an anti-Catholic edict and ordered all Catholic churches and seminaries destroyed. Many Catholics fled to the jungle in the province of Quang Tri, where they had to contend with wild beasts and sickness. During one of their prayer sessions, Virgin Mary appeared in person, dressed in an ao dai (Vietnamese traditional dress), and advised them to boil the leaves of surrounding trees to heal themselves.

These are the bare facts of the legend that has brought Catholics and visitors to the La Vang sacred area for centuries now

There are different explanations given for the name "La Vang". One is that when the Catholics took refuge in the forest, they had to shout (la) to call someone, and the forest echoed (yang) their voices. Part of the forest then became the La Vang Holy Land. Then there is the version that says "La Vang" comes from the Vietnamese meaning of the word "Crying out" and "Echoing" to denote the cries for help of people who had to face a tough life in the jungle. Yet another explanation is that the name La Vang refers to the leaf that the Virgin Mary recommended her devotees use as medicine.

According to documents at the Hue Archbishop Office, when Emperor Canh Thinh, who ruled from 1792 to 1802, embarked on the persecution of Catholics, many followers living near the Dinh Cat Hill rushed to the forest, about 60 kilometers from their homes. They had to suffer sickness and starvation, not to mention face wild beasts.

It is not clear when the La Vang Holy Land was established. In 1885, the church in La Vang was burnt in a fire. One year later, a priest, Caspar Loc, had it rebuilt. The church was then expanded several times before being destroyed by bombs in 1972 in the Vietnam War. But its bell tower still remains until today, showing some of the damage caused by the bombs.

Between 1995 and 2004, many other constructions such as the Virgin Mary bell tower, the Thanh The Chapel, the Man Coi Square, and a guest house for pilgrims have been built in the area.

Under a large banyan tree is a statue of the Virgin Mary wearing an ao dai.

La Vang became the National Marian Center of Vietnam on April 13, 1961. Four months later, Pope John XXIII elevated the site to the rank of a Minor Basilica.

The La Vang Catholic festival, known as kieu in Vietnamese, is held every year on August 15, attracting thousands of visitors.

HOW TO GO THERE

* Around 40 kilometers from Hue, the La Vang Holy Land is located in Hai Lang District, the north-central province of Quang Tri.

* From Dong Ha Town, the center of Quang Tri, travel along National Highway 1A for 20 kilometers before turning right and going further for another kilometer or so to reach La Vang.

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