Built in the early 1900s, the Notre-Dame of Bangui Cathedral is a large red brick church built in the French colonial style. Above the three-door entrance is a white plaster icon of the Virgin Mary looking out from a niche. The interior of the cathedral features a crucifix and four massive windows featuring colored glass. The symmetrical double-tower design harkens back to Paris’s own Notre Dame Cathedral.
Though today it has a population of nearly 900,000, the Central African Republic’s largest city was established as a small outpost in 1889. A 1906 decree transformed the small post into the French colony’s capital. Catholicism was introduced into the newly established colony around the same time, with the arrival of Monsignor Augouard in 1893. Augouard established the Saint-Paul mission, which opened its doors in 1894. A few years after that, the Notre-Dame of Bangui Cathedral was built in the center of the so-called “European city.” The cathedral, along with the majority of other religious buildings in Bangui, was constructed with fired bricks that are a reddish color.
The Central African Republic is home to an estimated 2.9 million Christians today, about a third of whom are Roman Catholic. Many of these conversions happened when Catholic missionaries focused their efforts on the Central African Republic after World War I.
Since declaring independence from France in 1960, the Central African Republic has experienced a series of conflicts. Political unrest in the 1990s prompted then-Archbishop Joachim Ndayen to begin hosting peace talks at the cathedral in 1996. Later in 1999, Pope John Paul II visited Bangui and spoke about the “difficult and complex situation” facing the country.
Since 2012, the Central African Republic has been in the midst of a civil war spurred on in part by tensions between Muslim and Christian groups. In November 2015, Pope Francis visited the cathedral as well as the nearby Grande Mosquée de Bangui, offering a message of peace and resilience.