Destinations Western Africa

Stunning History Behind the Biggest Catholic Church in Africa

the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro
Written by Teresa Mwangi

What comes to your mind on the random thought of the biggest Catholic church in Africa? Something close to St Peter’s Basilica in the Vatican, Italy perhaps but Cote d’Ivoire (formerly known as Ivory Coast) has a surprise for you.

Anytime you mention the Catholic church, Italy, and more specifically St Peter’s Basilica comes to mind for this reason. Catholics believe that the Rome-based Basilica sits on a holy site where St Peter, who Biblically, headed the twelve disciples of Jesus, was buried. Judging by Italian architectural standards, this Rome-based Basilica always sends notions there is no other church close to this one. But Africa has it and it’s even bigger. Read on and learn more.

Which is the Biggest Catholic Church in Africa?

The biggest Catholic church in Africa is the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro in Cote d’Ivoire. Yamoussoukro is a populous city in this West African country known for its political and cultural standing.  The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is a major cultural wonder in this administrative capital of Cote D’Ivoire.

biggest catholic church in africa

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro in Cote d’Ivoire. Photo/Getty Images

Félix Houphouët-Boigny, the first Ivorian president built the church as a gift to the people of Yamoussoukro where he grew up. Cote d’Ivoire’s majority population, 42.5% are Muslims while 39.8% are Christians, most of whom are Catholics.

Pierre Fakhoury a Lebanese-born architect designed this Basilica in Yamoussoukro borrowing heavily from the Vatican in Italy.  Dumez, a French-affiliated construction company built this church from 1985 to 1989, a project that cost millions of dollars. Some sources indicate that it cost $175 million, while others put the figure at $300 million and $600 million respectively.

Looking at its interior, the estimated cost of construction could pass. The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace features 90,000 sq ft of Italian imported marble and 18,500 panels of handmade French stained glass shipped from France.  France Vitrail International which supplied the glass states that this was the company’s largest single order up to now.

Here are the amazing structural details the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro

Capacity Size in Sq ft Dome Height Dome Diameter Overall length
18,000 320,000 sq ft 158 metres 90 metres 195 metres

Which is the Largest Church in Africa?

Cote d’Ivoire’s Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro is the largest Catholic church in the continent with a capacity of 18,000 people. There are 7,000 seats in this Basilica and an additional standing space of 11,000 people. Its architectural interior décor features both structural and decorative columns all different in size.  Elevators are in every corner of the structure running to its twin villas whose significance is unbounded.

biggest catholic church in africa

The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro. Photo/ DayTrip

One of the villas is a reserve for the Pope whenever he visits while the other one serves as an administrative zone from which the clergy run the church. Ironically, there is only one papal visit ever made during the consecration of the church by Pope John Paul II in 1990.

Houphouët-Boigny was still in power and he invited the Pope from the Vatican to formally accept the gift and consecrate the church. He was a long-serving career politician besides his professional medical background. But politics had a bigger beat than his practice as a physician. He led Ivory Coast to independence in 1960 and ruled until 1990. He then passed on in 1993, just three years after the official opening of the church.

The late Ivorian founding father considered this church the most prestigious retirement gift in his native home town of Yamoussoukro. His religious background is largely attributed to helping Cote d’Ivoire achieve immense economic success during his 30-year rule. Besides his brilliant leadership; it is the biggest Catholic church in Africa that Ivorians remember him for.

Importantly, Houphouët-Boigny still pushed on with the church’s construction despite the controversy its construction cost brewed.  A section of the populace felt that it was a misplaced priority but he stayed focused.

Félix Houphouët-Boigny

Which African Country Has the Most Catholics?

The Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC) has 45 million Catholics making it the only African country with the most Catholic followers. Other African countries with many followers of the Catholic faith include the following:

  • Nigeria – 30.5 million Catholics
  • Angola – 16.7 million
  • Uganda – 28.4 million
  • South Africa – 7.1 million

Conclusion

In conclusion, Yamoussoukro in Cote d’Ivoire is the wonderous place where the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is situated. It sits on 320,000 sq ft with an 18,000 capacity.  Pope John Paul II consecrated it in 1990 and that’s the last time a papal visit was ever registered in this West African country.

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About the author

Teresa Mwangi

Teresa is a journalist with years of experience in creating web content. She is a wanderlust at heart, loves travelling and telling stories about tour and travel in Africa by every angle.

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