If you were to visit Algiers today, you would find a much different country than in years past. Although Algiers today is very much a Muslim country, it was not so for many centuries. In the 2nd century it was ruled by the Romans and part of the larger Roman Empire. In the 3rd century, after the legalization of Christianity by Emperor Constantine, it was a strong and vibrant Christian community. It would remain a Christian land until the Arab invasions centuries later. Algiers is the birthplace and residence of Saint Augustine of Hippo.
When the first Bishop arrived in Algiers, after the French reestablished their presence in the land in the early 19th century, there was no church and the local population was hostile to them being there. Since there was no money to build a church, Bishop Dupuch returned to France in order to seek donations to build one. In Lyon, France, the Sodality of Our Lady presented the bishop with a bronze statue of the Immaculate Conception. The sodality gave him the statue in hopes that it would be the protector of both the Muslims and the native people of the region.
The statue was first brought to Algiers from France in 1840, where it was given to the Cistercian monks of Staueli for safe keeping. It was eventually enshrined in the newly built basilica by the founder of the Missionary Sisters of Our Lady of Africa (White Sisters), Cardinal Charles Martial Allemand Lavigiers. The Basilica of Our Lady of Africa (Notre Dame d’Afrigue) took fourteen years to build. It was built in a Neo-Byzantine architecture. The the basilica was consecrated in 1872 and the statue was first crowned in 1876.
The bronze statue of the Immaculate Conception given by the Sodality of Our Lady in Lyon, France became known as Our Lady of Africa. The statue is dark in color with European accents. Over the years, pilgrims have traveled to the basilica to see the image. Many have been cured of their ailments. Since it is on the Bay of Algiers, many sailors and fisherman have also asked for her protection. Votive candles blanket the walls of the basilica, testimony that many cures and miracles have taken place.
Our Lady of Africa’s feast is celebrated on April 30 with a crowning of the statue.
Our Lady of Africa…Pray for Us
“Our Lady of Africa.” Roman Catholic Saints.
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