If you were to ask the average Catholic what the largest church in the world is, they might say Saint Peter’s in Rome, or some other famous and massive basilica in Spain, France, or Italy. But there’s a surprising answer to the actual location of the world’s largest church: It’s in the small West African nation of Côte d’Ivoire.
The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is a Catholic minor basilica dedicated to Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, the administrative capital of Côte d’Ivoire (Ivory Coast). The basilica was constructed between 1985 and 1989. The designs of the dome and encircled plaza are clearly inspired by the Basilica of Saint Peter in Vatican City, although it is not an outright replica. The cornerstone was laid on 10 August 1985, and it was consecrated on 10 September 1990 by Pope John Paul II.
For those of you who don’t know where Côte d’Ivoire is on a map, here you go:
With a footprint of 30,000 square meters (320,000+ sq. ft.), Guinness World Records lists The Basilica of Our Lady of Peace as the largest church in the world, having surpassed the previous record holder, St. Peter’s Basilica, upon completion. However, it also includes a rectory and a residence (counted in the overall area), which are not strictly part of the church. However, despite its external size, St. Peter’s is still larger internally, able to accommodate nearly 60,000 for St. Peter’s compared to the African Basilica’s 18,000.
Despite its massive size, the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace is relatively unknown throughout the world. That point highlights the attitudes of many Catholics to the realities of the Church in the 21st century. Many people in the west, when thinking of Catholicism, think of the historic churches of Europe. But often times, those churches sit in what are now radically secularized countries, and sit mostly empty. The Church in the west is shrinking or stagnant in growth.
But in Africa, Christianity is exploding. In 1900, the entire continent of Africa had barely a couple of million Catholics. Today, there are nearly 200,000,000 Catholics in Africa. Extrapolating that trend, by the 2040s there will be roughly 460 million African Catholics. For perspective, that number would be greater than the total world population of Catholics as it stood in just before the Second Vatican Council. By estimates, in 2030, there will be more Catholics in Africa than in Europe.
This puts into perspective how vital Africa is to the future of the Church and why we need to support it now, as an investment in the future.