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Basilique de Notre Dame de la Paix

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A woman enters the Basilique de Notre Dame de la Paix in Yamoussoukro, Ivory Coast for Sunday morning mass.

[Photo: Ann Jones]

An example of a despotic wastefulness, the Cathedral–the largest church in the world–was built by Felix Houphouët-Boigny, the country’s first president, as a personal gift to Pope John Paul in 1983. It was in that year of superficiality that Houphouët-Boigny moved the capital from Abidjan to Yamoussoukro, his birthplace where he built a lavish city at the expense of millions of starving citizens. The 30,000 square metre big Basilica of Our Lady of Peace alone cost around US$200 million.

The basilica, inspired by St. Peter’s in Rome, was consecrated by Pope John Paul II in 1989. Unlike the original, which took 109 years to build, the new basilica is an “instant” high-tech marvel of stained glass, marble and steel, the result of a herculean effort by some 1,500 mostly Ivorian workers and artisans toiling in two shifts around the clock for three years.

Hailed as one of the few enlightened rulers of Africa, Houphouët-Boigny led Ivory Coast to economic prosperity, through a close relationship with France. However, when Houphouet-Boigny, known in the West as the “Sage of Africa” or the “Grand Old Man of Africa”, died in 1993, he left his country in debt of $1.5 billion through his lavish spending. His image as one of the three Biblical Magi inside the Basilica now stands almost a mocking testament to the man who squandered a country’s fortune to buy his spot in heaven.

Written by Alex Selwyn-Holmes

June 10, 2009 at 2:35 am

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