The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast (Cote d’Ivoire), is a Catholic minor Basilica noted 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 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 around the Basilica. Construction was started in 1985 and was completed in 1989. It was consecrated in 1990.
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 is a massive garden 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. 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; a favorite spot for visitors.
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. The dome is supported on columns. The stained glass atop the dome has a dove inscribed centrally.
There are several unique features of the Basilica among which are the curvilinear wooden pews made of hard African Iroko wood, individual air-condition vent in the pews, the African design incorporated into the canopy over the altar, extensive amount of stained glass windows and doors, unique stained glass 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.
My guide told me 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; Our Lady of the Whole World.
There are two identical large mansions on the back end of the Basilica; one serves as the residence for the Pope and the other serves as the rectory for the rector and administrators of the facility. A 250 bed children’s hospital is located on the east side 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. Frank, 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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