In Oran, Algeria, at least there wasn’t stood a lonely goatherd. There was though, a beautiful old church. Its always a slight surprise to see churches in Islamic countries, but the French colonial past of Algeria makes it easier to understand.
Perched high up on the western side of the city, Santa Cruz chapel has fantastic views over the city and across the top secret Algerian naval base (I wont say anything if you don’t). It’s linked with one of the three forts in Oran, all built by the Ottomans. The chapel was a later addition, built around 1850 on the site where the former Bishop of Oran had led a pilgrimage to the high ground to escape a cholera epidemic in the city.
The drive up is worth the time on its own. Narrow hairpin bends, overhanging trees, a small shanty town reputed for its lack of warmth to visitors, with views getting better and better the higher you climb.
I went to visit the grounds with a devout Christian, two Buddhists, a Hindu and an atheist (me). The church itself is locked, I think I understood (my Arabic is nowhere near as good as it should be) its only open twice a year, Easter and Ascension, but the transfer of a couple of folded monetary notes meant the door was flung open and we went inside.
The soldiers guarding the place had no real idea of the history of the place, to be honest they were only really interested in trying to get a little bit more cash out of us, but they were at least friendly.
The lack of congregation, services and funds is visible on entering the church, the peeling paintwork and generally tired air affirm that this is a Catholic church in an Islamic country, but outside, high above the city, the everyday babble is unheard, only the noise of the sea and the birds break the medidative silence.
Our Christian stayed longer than us, doing whatever Christians do in churches, but I went outside to have a walk around the well decorated, if somewhat faded, walls and facades.
I will finish this by saying that I dont like Algeria. I’ve probably spent a total of four years of my life there out of the last dozen and I really dont like it. That said, Oran is by far the nicest city in the country, the corniche is great, the old, decaying French architecture is spectacular and should you ever find yourself in the city, Santa Cruz should definitely be on your to do list.