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Iconic Cathedral of Malabo Gets a Facelift (Photo: Sam Dean)
EGVistas Magazine
Iconic Cathedral of Malabo
Gets a Facelift

By William Van Swearingen
EGVistas MagazineEGVistas Magazine

Father Tarsicio Becoba Tobasi (Photo: Sam Dean)Situated on the Plaza de Independencia, Malabo’s Cathedral Santa Isabel is clearly the heart and soul of the city. It is one of the best examples of colonial Spanish architecture and an iconic landmark in the center of the city. The graceful twin steeples overlook a lovely plaza, dotted with colorful tiled benches centered on a marble fountain carved with African figures.

On Sunday morning before or after the regular masses, or in any late afternoon, children can be seen playing around the fountain, some enjoying traditional games, others practicing their breakdancing skills. Older students use the benches to study, while adults lounge on them, observing the scene.

Built in the early years of the last century, the cathedral bears the former name of Malabo, Santa Isabel, and embodies the colonial legacy of Catholic Spain, a legacy well known in the Americas but in Africa only fully evident in Equatorial Guinea, the only Spanish- speaking country in Africa. The exterior features elegantly arched doors and windows, while the interior boasts finely carved wood and cut stone pillars.

In May this year, Santa Isabel was clad in scaffolding as she embarked on a year of much needed renovations. Her structure is sound and she continues to be at the center of the spiritual life of some 2,000 parishioners, but she is due for an overhaul.

Father Tarsicio Becoba Tobasi, who is the main priest serving at the cathedral, says that although the renovation is extensive and “costs a lot of money,” it will not in any way change the original building.

Cathedral Santa Isabel (Photo: Sam Dean)Renovation on the outside is scheduled for completion in October, 2014, while work on the interior is to be completed in the spring of 2015, in time for its 100th birthday in 2016. The renovation is being carried out “so that the Cathedral will shine in greater beauty for all when we celebrate its 100th anniversary in 2016,” Father Becoba Tobasi says.

“This is the Cathedral’s first serious renovation since its consecration in February, 1916,” he says. Parishioners and visitors should not expect air-conditioned worship in the future, however. Cooling by fan will remain the only relief on hot and humid days. Installing air conditioning would require too many changes to core architectural elements, he says.

The packed pews at Sunday masses testify to the continued strength of the Catholic faith in this largely Christian nation. In the view of Father Becoba Tobasi, the arrival of sudden wealth from oil and gas discoveries that started two decades ago has had good and bad impacts on his country, but overall has not had a significant impact on the religious disposition of the people he serves. The family- centered church-going evident to visitors would seem to confirm this view.

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