Contrary to common belief, the world's largest Catholic church is to be found not in Rome but in Yamoussoukro, a small city in the war-torn African state of Côte d'Ivoire. The massive Basilica of Our Lady of Peace of Yamoussoukro, whose architecture is clearly inspired by the Basilica of St. Peter's in Rome, can comfortably seat 7,000 worshippers in its air-conditioned interior, and there is standing room for 11,000 in the nave. The three-hectare marble-clad plaza between the Basilica's colonnades can host as many as 180,000 more, meaning that the city's entire population of 200,000 could conceivably attend Mass at the same time.
The Administrative Capital
The church is the most notable architectural byproduct of then-president Félix Houphouët-Boigny's decision in 1983 to transform his birthplace, the town of Yamoussoukro, into Côte d'Ivoire's administrative capital. Briefed to create "the world's greatest church", Lebanese architect Pierre Fakhoury specified a cladding of Italian marble and 7,000 square metres of contemporary stained glass from France.
As a condition of Pope John Paul II's participation in the consecration, the Vatican mandated that the height of the church's dome should be inferior to that of St Peter's in Rome; nevertheless, thanks to the last-minute addition of a massive cross, its total height surpasses St. Peter's by 17m. By the time it was completed in 1989, the total cost of the basilica reached $300m.
Although Mass is celebrated regularly in the basilica, it is rarely filled to more than a minuscule fraction of its capacity, and Houphouët-Boigny's vision of an African place of pilgrimage, thronging with faithful on a par with St. Peter's, remains unrealized. It is worth noting, in this regard, that the dominant religion in Côte d'Ivoire is Islam.