Travel Weekly Crossroads' associate editor, Judy Koutsky, is
on a press tour of Africa's Ivory Coast. She is chronicling her
adventures in regular, on-line travelogues. On the third full day
of her trip, Judy attended morning Mass at the Basilica of Our Lady
of Peace in Yamoussoukro. This is the second chapter in the "Judy
Goes to Africa" series:
YAMOUSSOUKRO, Ivory Coast -- The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace
is without a doubt the most beautiful creation I've ever seen --
and I've been to Vatican City. The largest cathedral in the world,
its imposing pillars and dome can be seen from miles around. Of
course, it's poignant that a country with many of its people poor
and malnourished spent over a million dollars to build this
magnificent cathedral (although nobody will divulge the actual
cost; it was simple a gift from the private funds of the former
President Felix Houphouet-Boigny).
It's even more incongruous when it's taken into account that
only 15% of the population is Christian (60% is amimist and the
rest is Muslim). However, Ivorian officials are hoping the basilica
can bring some badly needed tourist dollars by appealing to
Catholics around the world. The problem, of course, is that few
Catholics know of its existence. A trip to the Ivory Coast just for
the basilica certainly would not be a waste.
Construction began in 1987 and it was completed in just three
years. The outside is striking, yet not overpowering, but stepping
inside can make one quickly forget that this is poverty-stricken
Africa. Thirty-six immense stained-glass windows radiate with over
4,000 colors. The stained glass was hand-blown in France by the
most revered glassmakers in the world.
Marble pillars, imported from Rome surround the pews. The pews
are made of Ivorian wood called kotiba, and were sent to
Italy for installation of individual air-conditioning units; they
are needed because the heat and humidity would ruin the wood. A
crystal chandelier from Italy hangs over the altar, and a large
22-karat-gold cross hangs down in the center of the basilica. The
effect is breathtaking.
The cathedral holds 18,000 people: seven sitting and 11,000
standing. It has been full only twice: A papal visit in 1990 and
the funeral of Felix Houphouet-Boigny. At the mass I attended,
there were about 100 or so Ivorians dressed in Western garb.
Because the mass was in French, I just sat in silence, taking in
this once-in-a-lifetime sight.
It's imperative to visit the basilica during service because the
choir is unforgettable. It performs a combination of Catholic and
Ivorian song and dance. Visitors who tour the basilica can see the
upstairs, where pictures depict its construction and the history of
the Ivorian Christians.
Despite the basilica's beauty, one can't help but think of the
cost of its creation and how the money could have been allocated to
better benefit the people. The construction of the church set off
protest and political unrest among the Ivorians, and one need only
see the protruding bellies of the malnourished, scantily clad
children in town to understand why.
Nonetheless, because it's already built and there's no undoing
it, I strongly recommend that visitors, Catholics and non-Catholics
alike, go and admire it on face value. Words cannot give it
justice. Some say it's the eighth wonder of the world, and I have
no doubt that it is.
Goes to Africa, Part 1: "Akwaba to Cote d'Ivoire"
Judy Goes to Africa, Part 2: The Paradox of Our Lady of
Goes to Africa, Part 3: Forgerons, Potiers and
the Dance of the Leopard-Men
Goes to Africa, Part 4: Living on 'African Time'
Goes to Africa, Part 5: No Electricity, but the Men Wear
Goes to Africa, Part 6: Friendliness is Country's Best