Outstripping St. Peter's Basilica in Rome by more than 80 feet, Our Lady of Peace in Yamoussoukro, Côte d'Ivoire is a little-attended basilica in the Middle of an African coconut plantation.

Why Was The World's Biggest Church Built In Côte d'Ivoire?

Photo Credit: Tim McDonnell

Here's Tim McDonnell for Mother Jones, reporting from the Basilica :

Sometimes called the "basilica in the bush," [Basilica Our Lady of Peace] is a jaw-dropping and bizarre monument to the end of a period only a few decades ago when Côte d'Ivoire was competing against other newly-independent African nations to become the cultural and economic powerhouse of the continent.

The raw numbers are stunning: Between July 1986 and September 1989, 1,100 workers cleared 178 acres of coconut grove, coated the space with 13 football fields-worth of European marble, and erected a 520-foot-tall structure, supported by 128 towering Doric columns, that can accommodate 200,000 worshippers. Inside are 24 stained-glass windows. The organ can reach volumes that lead to permanent hearing loss. The building is estimated to weigh 98,000 metric tons.

But probably the most interesting figure—how much it all cost—is shrouded in mystery: Although independent estimates pegged the price tag at about $300 million, then-President Félix Houphouët-Boigny was notoriously tight-lipped, preferring to refer to the construction as a gift from God (with help from his massive personal cocoa fortune).

McDonnell has more of the basilica's incredible backstory – including several jaw-dropping photos – at MoJo.