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Madagascar’s oldest church

On the east coast of Madagascar, on the island of Nosy Boraha (St. Marie), you will find the oldest Catholic church in the country. It is located directly at the sea on the southern edge of the largest city of the island, Ambodifotatra, and thus belongs to the Analanjirofo region.

Pierre Dalmond
Pierre Dalmond

Nosy Boraha came under French domination as early as 1750. The history of the old church goes back to 1837, when the Jesuit Father Pierre Dalmond came from southern France to Madagascar and the island of Nosy Boraha. Seven years earlier in Paris, he had met Henri de Solages, who had just been appointed apostolic prefect of the Madagascararenes, and encouraged Dalmond to missionary work in the tropics. After De Solages died in 1932, Dalmond wanted to follow in his footsteps and convert the Madagascans to Christianity. During three stays on the island he christened about 1500 people, translated the first Catholic books into Madagascan and wrote the first French-Madagascan dictionaries. In 1839 three Sisters from Saint Joseph of Cluny came to Nosy Boraha and administered the missionary work without any outside help. Father Dalmond did not return to the island until 1847, but died there shortly afterwards.

The first missionary church was finally completed in 1857. The cast iron altar, made of French naval material, was sent to Madagascar by the then reigning French empress Eugénie de Montijo as a gift. The church was called “Notre dame de l’assumption”.

Unfortunately, Madagascar’s oldest church is basically closed to visitors, and the old church name above the entrance portal has since been painted over. Only during the services, every Sunday from 8 am, is it possible to look inside the old church and take part in the festivities. However, a renovation of the old building would be necessary once again.

 

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