What’s the largest church in the world?
Not in North or South America, or even Europe.
Depending on what you mean by “largest,” the answer, amazingly, is a relatively unknown church in the small African country of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast).
Behold, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Côte d’Ivoire (click to enlarge):
And here’s a view of its beautiful interior (more pictures at the end of the article!):
Yamoussoukro is the administrative capital of Côte d’Ivoire, a west African country with a population of just around 24 million people. Around a third of the population of the country practices traditional African religions, a third is Muslim, and the remaining third is Christian, mostly Catholic.
That means the whole country only has a few million Catholics, at most. Nonetheless, in the late 1980s, at a cost of a whopping $300 million, the massive Basilica of Our Lady of Peace was built.
And the footprint of the new church ended up coming to around 30,000 m^2. That’s substantially larger than the next largest church in the world, St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, which has a footprint of around 21,000 m^2. The Basilica is also the tallest Roman Catholic church in the world at 518 ft/158 m, and the second tallest Christian church in the world (second only by 12 ft/3.5 m!).
Of course, with rankings of this sort, it gets a bit more complicated when you get into the details. So here are a few caveats:
First of all, the building includes a rectory and a villa, which are normally separate from a church.
Second, even though the overall footprint of the church is larger, the interior is smaller than St. Peter’s Basilica: it can accommodate up to around 18,000 attendees, compared to St. Peter’s 60,000. Unfortunately, despite it’s size and cost, most services at the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace are only attended by a few hundred people.
A note about that $300 million price tag…
Côte d’Ivoire brought in huge amounts of money in the 1980s exporting cocoa and other products. The president Félix Houphouët-Boigny spent money on a wide range of projects, from hotels and convention centers to a massive new palace for himself, replete with a crocodile inhabited moat. He was also inspired to build a large church in his hometown of Yamoussoukro, a relatively small city (this explains why there’s not much around the Basilica).
The large price-tag for the Basilica was highly controversial at the time given the country’s poverty, particularly when world commodity prices plummeted in the late ’80s during the church’s construction. Financing the church ultimately doubled the country’s debt.
Controversies over the cost made Pope St. John Paul II hesitant to travel to Côte d’Ivoire to consecrate the church, but he eventually agreed to do so after the government said it would build a new hospital nearby. As of 2015, however, the hospital has not been finished.
You may be thinking: if this is the basilica, then what’s the cathedral of the diocese like?
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is just that – a basilica. Despite the size and high cost, it’s not even the cathedral of the diocese. That honor is held by the Cathedral of St. Augustine.
Here’s what the Cathedral of St. Augustine looks like:
Not quite as impressive, huh?