Street in the Tunis Medina. Note 'Ultras' grafitti

After wandering around the old city (Medina) this afternoon, I took a quick look at the Cathedral which stands at one end of Avenue Bourguiba, opposite the French Embassy – twin symbols of the period of French colonial rule, both built in the latter half of the nineteenth century.

To one side of the cathedral nave is a very fancy reliquary, approximately contemporary with the building itself. It purportedly contains part of the body of King Louis IX of France, who died of fever in Tunis at the start of his second failed crusade. Angels representing the Church and the French state support a French cathedral (very different in style from the one in which it is housed).

I can understand the historical reason why the Archdiocese might want this here. But today a reminder of the Crusades, and particularly of the aggressive alliance of Church and state power that drove them, seems an odd, insensitive choice for a prominent church in a majority Muslim country.

Also of interest, mosaics of early Popes from Tunisia or, more accurately, from the Roman province of Africa.

There was a fairly steady stream of visitors, among whom I was a rare foreigner. Saturday afternoon is for many Tunisians a time for shopping and strolling, and most seemed to be groups of family or friends out doing just that, perhaps enjoying the relative quiet of the cathedral compared to the bustle of the nearby Medina, shopping streets, and fresh food markets.

Tunisia’s Christian population is small, and its Catholic population smaller. I suspect the cathedral largely caters to resident foreigners, including refugees and those associated with the African Development Bank. But if anyone knows for sure, I would be interested in learning about it.

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