The Basilique Notre-Dame de la Paix de Yamoussoukro (the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro) in Africa currently ranks as the largest church in the world. But few people worship in this 18,000-person facility, leaving some commentators to wonder if the building is a “colossal” waste of money.
Built in the late 1980s by Ivory Coast’s president Félix Houphouët-Boigny for $300 million, this Catholic church is based on St. Peter’s basilica in Rome. Houphouët-Boigny claimed funding came through a “deal with God,” though he offered few details. The Daily Beast’s Nina Strochlic recently described the contentious project:
“In 1985, after moving the country’s capital to his birthplace of Yamoussoukro, then an agricultural village of just 15,000, Houphouët-Boigny commissioned a lavish replica of the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica in honor of the town’s new title and, presumably, as a lasting legacy to his reign as it dwindled.
“He spent the next four years pouring millions into the project, led by architect Pierre Fakhoury, who brought in a crew of 1,500 workmen to sculpt the colossal structure in an expedited three years—compared to the 109 it took to construct St. Peter’s—to ensure the aging president could see its completion.
“The end result was a complex stretching across 323,000 square feet and soaring 525 feet into the air. Inside, a massive, domed nave offers individual air conditioning vents for all 7,000 chairs. It’s decorated with 36 massive stained-glass windows, hand-made in Bordeaux, France, and one of which depicts Houphouët-Boigny offering a gift to Jesus.”
Recent articles on the project have raised questions about the funding for the church:
“In fact, the whole thing is arguably one big empty and outrageous contradiction. Up to 18,000 people can worship in the basilica (7,000 seated, 11,000 standing) but in a nation where more than two thirds of its people aren’t even Christian, it has a tough time filling just a few seats....
“In reality, seemingly misplaced in a barren and poverty-stricken landscape, what was built to represent a country’s political and economic stability, is anything but. Perhaps hoping to immortalize himself and his presidency, during which time the country briefly prospered following independence from France, Houphouët-Boigny commissioned his portrait beside Jesus in one of the stained-glass panes inside the basilica he called ‘the greatest church in the world’. But the President’s legacy had lost its shine, the economic prosperity was short lived and stability was fleeting. Less than a decade after the grand monument was complete, the country was plunged into civil war.”