Thursday, April 21, 2011

The Largest Church in the World?


Where is the biggest church in the world?

St. Peters in the Vatican seems a likely guess. Maybe somewhere else in Italy? Milan? Venice? Spain and Portugal have some huge cathedrals. Maybe Canterbury, seat of the head of the Church of England. There are some big churches in Mexico and South America with their strong Catholic populations. The cathedrals in New York and Washington DC are gigantic too.

The remarkable thing is that with all these thoughts we aren't even on the correct continent. The largest church in the world is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace (Notre Dame de la Paix) in Yamoussoukro in the troubled and impoverished west African country of Ivory Coast (or Cote D'Ivoire).

The brainchild of an enthusiastic (or is that, eccentric?) Ivory Coast president (now passed away), Yamoussoukro Basilica was constructed in the late 1980s consuming up to 25 percent of the nation's annual budget for several years. Modelled on St. Peter’s with its huge courtyard and opened by the Pope in 1990 after much debate, this incredible complex can be seen for miles around. Yamoussoukro was only a small village (population under 200) before the president of the time decreed his town of birth as the new capital. The surrounding grand multi-lane boulevards is reminiscent of Paris but almost completely without traffic or activity. The capital has since returned to the largest city of Abidjan.

The dome on the basilica is massive (larger than St. Peters) but the most striking is the mass of stained glass. One noteworthy image shows Jesus Christ with the president and the chief architect.

About the only other building of any scale is the old Presidential Palace. Today it is the burial site for the former president. It isn't open to the public but visitors can walk around the perimeter of the palace to see the human guards along with a number of crocodiles. These get fed every afternoon in quite a flamboyant show. It was reassuring that they were well fed as the fencing appeared to be little more than a few random strands of wire, unlikely to restrain any crocodile with hunger pangs.

Attending a church service in the basilica is an uplifting experience. Primarily in French, though also in some of the local tribal dialects, the service I attended went for over two hours. The attendance wasn’t huge but the lack of numbers was made up by the superb evangelical singing and the fantastic colour in the outfits of the African women, which went a long way to complementing the dazzling stained glass lit in the intense morning sunshine.

Photo credit: Stained glass

11 comments:

Sailor said...

Wow...I wouldn't have guessed it right. Beautiful blog and pictures.

Heather on her travels said...

Anywhere else in Europe and this church would be packed with pilgrims just like St Peters. It must have been a wonderful experience to attend mass there.

Mark H said...

@heather: Mass was special and it is strange to wander around this huge basilica with almost no-one around apart from a few nochalant guards. Saying that, much of the money could have been put to much better use while still building an impressive palce of worship and the maintenance bills in the years to come will be testing.

Barbara Weibel said...

Absolutely fascinating.I never would have guessed, and the fact that building it consumed up to 25% of the nation's annual budget for several years is absolutely mind-boggling. How do they get away with this stuff?

Leigh said...

You had me stumped. In a million years I wouldn't have guessed Ivory Coast. What an incredible amount of money to spend on a church in such an impoverished nation. What were you doing there? Not many people make it to the Ivory Coast.

Sherry Ott said...

Awesome trivia! I had no idea - but now am fascinated to see it. Very cool that you went to a service there too.

Mark H said...

@barbara: 25% is amazing. As I say "only in Africa"...

Mark H said...

@leigh: I travelled through Africa top to bottom some years ago inlcuding quite a number of remote and unusual countries. Ivory Coast has become very dangerous now.

Mark H said...

@sherry: I was stunned too when I first read about it. It is a truly magnificent building with great stained glass windows that have an almost kaleidoscopic effect inside the basilica - stunning.

sgabraki23 said...

That's really an incredible cathedral! It's funny I've been to many European cathedrals and I guess I always assumed the largest cathedral would've been located in Europe. I never would've thought the Ivory Coast. However, even though their economy is at a decline currently I think they must've been extremely successful at one point because of their market which is primarily based on production and exporting. I have to see it one day!

Mark H said...

@sgabraki23: Like everyone, I'd have thought the biggest cathedral would have been in Europe - but on many measures it is in Ivory Coast, despite the discomfort of such a huge spend in such an impoverished country.

 
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