I seem to be magically drawn to churches. This is pretty ironic, considering that I am an absolute non-believer and atheist. But I can appreciate beauty, and devotion, and love when I see it, and most churches are just wonderful examples of how humans can work together to create something very special. No matter where I travel, churches and other places of worship – just like markets, parks and scenic look-outs – play an extremely important part in my explorer’s itinerary.
Take for example this beautiful New Caledonian church in Noumea – in French it’s called L’église de l’Immaculée Conception, or in English the Church of Immaculate Conception. It is located on a hillside right outside of Noumea, the New Caledonian capital, and it is actually one of the most important churches in New Caledonia. Have a look here if you would like to know what else you can see when visiting Noumea.
The church was built by missionaries, the Marist Fathers, in 1874, who first arrived in New Caledonia in 1855. It marks the point of the first settlement founded here by the missionaries.
Today, the church of Immaculate Conception is a gathering place for many thousand pilgrims who come together at this place every year on August 15 to honour the Virgin Mary during the Feast of the Assumption, one of the most important days in the Catholic calendar and a public holiday in New Caledonia. It is hard to believe the commotion that must happen here during the festival, considering the almost serene setting this church finds itself in.
Next door you will see the crumbling facade of the Sisters of Saint Joseph of Cluny – a nunnery. To the other side a small park with mangoes and other tropical plants. Ascend the portal steps and inside the church you will be greeted with cool air and lots of light. There is a lot of detail here – in particular the stained glass windows, each of them very individual in style – are fascinating. They document the early days of the missionaries in Noumea. While this church is quite traditional in style you cannot help but notice that there are certain features that are truly unique to the South Pacific culture, such as the flowers, sea shells and floral ornaments.
Take special note of the marble plaques along the walls… each one of them telling a story in their own way. Dedicated to the Virgin Mary and thanking her for a stroke of luck or a good fortune or a merciful deed, these plaques date back some one hundred years.
I think this church is a great stop on your tour of Noumea, have a look when you are around.
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