Our Lady of Peace Ivory Coast

The Universal Church: Basilica Of Our Lady Of Peace, Ivory Coast

The nation of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast), on the Gulf of Guinea, borders both Liberia and Ghana. Its population is mostly Muslim, with multiple ethnic groups; it gained independence from France in 1960.

Yamoussoukro is its capitol city, with a population of about 355,000 people. This city is home to the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace:

In this small city, seemingly in the middle of nowhere, you will find the world’s largest church by some standards: the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace.  Loosely modeled on St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, it features the largest dome in Africa and one of the largest domes built anywhere in the 20th century.  By any standard it is among the world’s biggest church buildings, a testament to Catholicism in French West Africa, and also to the ego of Felix Houphouet-Boigny, the president who virtually bankrupted the Ivory Coast while building it.  Despite the cost, the basilica has become a source of national pride for the entire country, not just Catholics.  Today it is the most popular Christian pilgrimage site in West Africa.

The basilica was consecrated by St. John Paul II in 1990, making it not only one of the largest Christian pilgrimage sites in the world but also one of the newest. Unfortunately for this relatively poor country, it cost $300 million to build, doubling the nation’s debt.

The exterior of the church boasts a glass cross atop its dome more than 500 feet in height. The basilica is so large, it can accommodate 18,000 (7,000 in pews, with standing room for the remainder.) It certainly does not reflect native architecture and art; rather, it reflects Europe: over 7,000 square feet of French-made stained glass and Gothic architecture, with marble imported from Italy. The windows tell the story of God’s salvific plan for humanity:

There are four triptychs combining (sic) great theological, philosophical and moral. In the middle of each triptych, the main window is easily recognized by its arched shape, due to the large radiant rosette which dominates … [T]he four large rosettes of the sanctuary are four cardinal virtues … Christian morality: Justice (stained glass Our Lady of Peace), [Fortitude] (the glorious Christ), Temperance (original sin), Prudence (the baptism of Jesus). The colors and patterns unique to each triptych draw from Greek philosophy to evoke the four elements of Creation: air, fire, earth and water … [T]he windows also show the theological symbolism of four triptychs: the Marian triptych, Christ the triptych, the triptych of creation, the triptych of the New Covenant.

With a very small population of Catholics in Yamoussoukro, the basilica is a point of pride for the city but is often nearly empty, save for tourists.

The basilica has aroused much international controversy, for the lavish building glittering with Italian marble sits in the middle of an impoverished African city where only a minority of homes have running water and adequate sanitation …

The church is maintained by priests of the Society of Catholic Apostolate (also known as the Pallottines), who claim St. Vincent Pallotti as their founder. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace certainly has one of the most colorful histories of any Catholic church: a miniature St. Peter’s in Africa, with stunning art and architecture, a financial burden for this mostly Muslim nation.