Navrongo Cathedral

The Navrongo Cathedral, with its traditionally decorated interior, stands as the last remaining mud cathedral in Ghana. It's origins date back to April 23, 1906 when Fathers Morin and Chollet and Brother Eugene arrived at the English military quarters of Navarro (Navrongo) in Northern Gold Coast (Ghana) with the intention of establishing a Catholic mission station there under the name of Our Lady of Seven Sorrows.

Traditionally built, it had deep foundation trenches filled with stones and boulders. Walls were built up layer by layer using mud balls kneaded together, each layer grooved by the thumbs to easily receive the next one. Approximately one days drying time was allowed before the following layer was placed. Together women smeared the walls with a mixture of mud, cow-dung and the extracts of the fruit of the local Dawa-Dawa tree to harden and water-proof them.

Front of Cathedral

Generally large wooden beams placed on load bearing walls formed the roof. Smaller thinner rafters were placed across these, then a layer of dense twigs and finally a thick layer of smooth mud. A mixture of cow dung, fine clay and the extract of the Shea-butter tree formed a screed and a final waterproofing layer was smeared on top.

Inside the Cathedral
On a clean swept floor sprinkled with water, women laid a thick layer of latrite soil and a soaked solution of cow-dung. With wooden instruments they beat and pounded the ground continuously until it was compact and resilient. For a period of two weeks a dawa-dawa solution was sprinkled on the floor to toughen it further against the wear and tear of normal use.

In 1920 Father Lucien Melancon oversaw the last major structure changes to the church. An elaborated interior was created by the addition of a pitched roof, raised walls, and tower. This creaded a larger colonnaded interior.

In 1972 the cathedral was first embellished with the magnificantly colored low relief motis. Seven women from the nearby village of Sirigu agreed to apply their talents to the interior of the cathedral and decorate it with their enchanting animal forms and geometric patterns. The walls were stripped of their existing paintwork by the village men leaving a smooth but uneven mud surface onto which the women could apply their decoration.

A smoothing soil known as "bole" was applied onto this broken uneven surface. This fine, ash-grey soil was mixed with water, smeared half an inch thick and left to harden. Religious figures (Our Lady, Angels) and African scenes (Fu-Fu pounder) were carefully chalked onto the columns while local animal forms were painted onto the lower walls. Another local soil, "zigi-molego," found near the town of Sirigu was used to raise the chalked outlined figures by a few images. A rich red soil, it was mixed with water and applied by hand. Around these figures a thinner layer of "zigi-molego" was smeared. This provided the base column color and surface to engrave into. The women smoothed this surface using small round white stones known as "saasaga."

Zig-zags, chevrons, criss-croses were engraved into the clay surfaces using these stones, sticks, or the artists fingers. Quick work was necessary lest the mud harden and become unworkable.

Millet Stalks

Fu-Fu Pounder
Finally color was applied, three colors being used; red (gare), black (kug-spla) and white (keg-peela). Small clusters of each soil were broken down on a large grinding surface (nitre) using a small flat stone (nambinga). These finely ground dust particles were then mixed in wooden bowls forming a paste and applied by brush or hand to the various patterns on the walls and columns. Finally they were polished giving a glazed finished apperance.

For forty days the women worked on this cathedral. The vitality of these women; their sensitivity; their care and attention to detail render this cathedral a startling masterpiece, a majestic canvasas of individual creativity, a work of art.

The following links are an artist's representation of many of the columns in the Navrongo Cathedral.

Angel with cup
Millet Stalks
Fu-fu pounder
Bishops hat
Woman praying
Angel and two men
Heart and Cross
Angel fu-fu pounder
Kapok pods
Geometric design 1
Geometric design 2
Geometric design 3
Geometric design 4
Geometric design 5

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Last updated March 9, 1997.

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