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.
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