The Basilica at Yamoussoukro: The Work of an unfathomable conscience
Everyone has heard, or seen pictures, of the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro. This is the building whose consecration by Pope John Paul II on 10 September 1990 prompted a major controversy between supporters and opponents of the Church. Without wishing to join in the debate, which in any case is now largely over, The Courier decided nevertheless to have a look at the edifice which had provoked such strong feelings on either side.
Travelling along one of Africa's most attractive roads, between Abidjan and Yamoussoukro, one reaches the village where President Houphouet-Boigny was born. At the entrance to the village, which is actually a major regional centre, the road suddenly widens and turns into a huge avenue. At the far end stands what is now the most celebrated building in Côte d'lvoire-the Basilica of Our Lady of Peace. Impressive even at a distance, the Basilica at Yamoussoukro compels admiration and wonder. Both outside and inside, it is beautiful. One feels one must slacken one's pace so that the eyes have time to take in the perfection of a monument whose very reason for existing is to be found only in the unfathomable conscience of its creator. But to that, of course, we have no access ... At any rate, be it the pillars, the altar, the baptismal font, the dome, the seats or the stained glass windows where the President and Servant of God, Felix Houphouet-Boigny, is to be seen amid all the company of heaven, the immediate effect of everything in the church is one which surpasses rational thought.
As soon as one comes out, reality quickly takes hold again, and it is difficult -unless one is moved by the spirit of the place or by God-not to wonder, at the very least, how strong the religious convictions of a man who somehow found the resources to put up such a colossal monument can really be. It is undeniably an architectural triumph.
Perhaps the answer is contained in a sentence to be found in the introductory booklet to Our Lady of Peace. 'God is mad with love for each one of us,' it reads. Could it be that man, too, is mad with love of the godhead or, indeed, of a history which has for so long forged that other, black consciousness? It is not for us to say.
Whether you are for or against Our Lady of Peace, though, is now beside the point. The Basilica has become a place where large numbers of visitors, believers and non-believers alike, come together. So, in fact, has the town of Yamoussoukro, with its fine avenues, prettier in parts than those of Abidjan, its schools, its five-star hotel, its African Library, its street souvenir sellers and its high prices, which are in inverse proportion to the incomes of Côte d'Ivoire's people... And not forgetting the crocodile pool !
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