Featured Image Source: Patrick Gruban, Under Creative Commons, https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Sacred_heart_of_Algiers.jpg
For more than 100 years the main cathedral in Algiers was a mosque. The Ketchaoua Mosque was converted to the Cathedral of St Philippe in 1845 by the French. In 1962 Algiers final got a Church worthy of the city and the Kechaoua Mosque once again became the main mosque of the city.
The story of the Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Alger starts in 1842 when the ‘Dames du Sacré Cœur’ arrived in Algiers and built a college and parish church. Many devotees came to this site to pray and celebrate mass. Around the beginning of the 20th century, the college was destroyed. The empty plot of land is where the Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Alger was built. In 1944 Bishop Leynaud, the Archbishop of Algeria at the time vowed to build a new church in the midst of a war-stricken world. The colonial government wanted to increase the Christian following in Algeria which had historically been a predominately Muslim area. A large new Cathedral would help to increase the Christian population in the city of Algiers.
The building was designed by Paul Herbé and Jean Le Couteur. The architects were chosen by a design competition in 1956 and construction began in 1958. The structural engineer was René Sarger.
The architects wanted a building which was beautiful not because of its decoration and ornamentation but purely because of its structural form. The building had to create a contemplating atmosphere where the light fall created a space amiable to prayer. The building is a Greek cross with a circular floor plan. In the centre of the building the reinforced concrete shell towers above the city. The floor plan of the building resembles an Icthus, the fish, representing Jesus Christ.
The building has a grand entrance on the Rue Beladjel Hocine. From the entrance, one looks straight towards the Apse and Altar. Behind the altar, there is a zig-zag concrete wall that forms the back wall of the cathedral. Above this is a thin line of stained glass that shines light towards the congregation. This line of stained glass goes around the whole base of the central tower. Because of the glass the tower and base are not connected by the wall, therefore the tower is held up by large Sagrada Famíliaesque columns.
The central tower is a cylinder that tapers in the middle and then tapers back out towards the top. If one looks up at the tower from inside you see what can only be described as the divine light of the lord. At the top of the tower, there is an intricate concrete structure. The structure is made up of a central circular hole where from concrete beams stretch out to touch the main tower structure. Purple light flows between the beams into the church.
The building is not only a celebration of God but also a celebration of concrete. The building is light and airy, the columns are thin and sculptured, the roof shell is smooth and unending. The building towers above the city and is a testament to a modern architecture and a modern Algeria.
Sources: Wikipedia (Cathédrale du Sacré-Cœur d’Alger), Wikipedia (Paul Herbé), Wikipedia (Jean Le Couteur), Wikipedia (Ketchaoua Mosque), Wikipedia (Sacré-Cœur, Paris), Sagrada Família Adam Achrati, Bab el Oued Story, Structurae, got Questions, [Book] Choreographies of Shared Sacred Sites (Elazar Barkan & Karen Barkey), Catholic Hierarchy