The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace Yamoussoukro (Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix) The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), is a Roman Catholic minor Basilica and happens to be the largest church in the world. This magnificent edifice was built by the first president of Ivory Coast, Felix Houphouet-Boigny. The Basilica is situated on a donated piece of land which used to be part of Felix Houphouet-Boigny’s coconut farm in his home town of Yamoussoukro. The remnant of the coconut farm remains visible today around the Basilica.
The construction of the Basilica was started in 1985 and was completed in 1989. The Basilica was consecrated in 1990 by Pope John Paul II. The approach to the Basilica is about 1 kilometer long. It is paved with marble centrally with asphalted driveway on either side circling the Basilica. There are massive gardens on either side of the driveway supposedly patterned on the gardens of the palace of Versailles in France.
The design of the Basilica is that of a Christian Cross. The Basilica is made of marble. There are two semicircular colonnades, patterned on the Doric colonnades of St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, in front of the Basilica. Two minor domes are present on each of the colonnades. The two colonnades encircle a large dove image imprinted on the floor of the massive forecourt, perhaps signifying peace which is the central theme of the Basilica. The two colonnades lead to a large rectangular porch or façade which forms the lower portion of the cross. Columns are plentiful and are of non-uniform design. There is a terrace on top of the porch supported by huge columns.
The nave of the Basilica is round and can seat 7000 worshipers. There is also room for additional 11000 standing worshipers resulting in a total capacity of 18,000. The nave is free standing under the dome which is supported on pillars and columns. The stained glass atop the dome has a dove inscribed centrally. There are several unique features of the Basilica among which are; the curved wooden pews made of hard African Iroko wood, each pew has its own air-condition vent, the African design incorporated into the canopy over the main altar, extensive amount of stained glass windows and doors, unique stained glass image of the nativity containing images and or names of those involved in the concept, design and building of the Basilica, a wooden sculpture of the ‘Notre Dame De Tout Le Monde’, and the tallest dome in the world if you consider the huge ornamental cross on top of the dome. In addition to the main altar, there are two smaller or minor altars at the rear end of the basilica within the nave.
My guide related an inspirational story about the ‘Notre Dame De Tout Le Monde’. This wooden sculpture of the Virgin Mary was conceived by an incarcerated Muslim criminal in Yamoussoukro prison. Apparently, this individual had a dream in which he had a conversation with the Virgin Mary. He reasoned that if the Virgin Mary could appear to him, a Muslim, She obviously belonged to the whole world and not to Christians alone. He decided to erect a sculpture to the Virgin Mary; ‘Notre Dame De Tout Le Monde’ (‘Our Lady of the Whole World’). At close range when you approach the sculpture, there is some anguish facial expression on the Virgin Mary. However, as you walk away from Her, the anguish turns into a smile! Perhaps telling us that all will be well. A rather remarkable appearance to behold.
There are two identical large mansions on the back end of the property; one serves as the residence for the Pope and the other serves as the rectory for the rector and administrators of the facility.
A children’s hospital is located just outside the east gate of the facility. Minor administrative offices are also located adjacent to the fence on the east entrance of the facility.
I am particularly grateful for the opportunity to photograph this unique Basilica which I believe is a unique gift to Christendom and the African continent. I am also grateful for the opportunity to meet with the rector, Rev. Fr. Franck, sca, his assistant, Irene and the seminarian, Peter. Attending the Good Friday Passion of Christ and service at the Basilica is the highpoint of my Christian life.
My hope is that this Basilica will become a rallying point for Catholics on the African continent and a place of pilgrimage for many more people from around the world.
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