Iracoubou St. Joseph Church

Interior of Iracoubou church, French Guiana
Interior of Iracoubou church / Spooky, Wikimedia Commons. CC BY-SA 3.0

Main characteristics

Coordinates: 5.4793 N 53.2066 W
No:300        (list of all attractions)
Values:Architecture, Visual, History
Address:South America, French Guiana, Iracoubou town
Name in French:L’église d’Iracoubo
Year of construction:1887 - 1893
Art style:Naïve art
Branch of Christianity:Catholics

From the outside the St. Josephs Church in Iracoubou village looks simple and unpretentious. But this simplicity is deceiving - the frescoes inside represent a true masterpiece of naïve art.


The small village of Iracoubou was founded in the early 19th century in the lands of Arawak and Galibi people. The town is located at the estuary of Iracoubou stream in the site where it is crossed by (locally) important road between the main city of French Giuana - Cayenne and the capital city of Suriname - Paramaribo.

Iracoubou is not far from the Atlantic ocean - but the land between the village and ocean is covered with tropical forest. In fact most of the land around the village is pristine forest with smaller patches of agricultural fields closer to the settlement.

Prosper Raffray

Father Raffray arrived in this remote outpost of civilization in March 6, 1886. In the remote, almost isolated village amidst the rainforest lived some 500 - 600 people. Raffray decided that he will make a model city. One of the first steps in this was a construction of a new church.

Works were started by the local people in 1887 and in January the church was built . This structure is constructed from the local trees and the walls are infilled with bricks.

Pierre Huguet and frescoes

The remote French Guiana served as a penal colony for those French citizens which were unwanted by the officials in France. Among these prisoners were diverse people - diehard criminals and idealistic anarchists, crude folks and sophisticated intellectuals.

Pierre Huguet was one of these unfortunate people. Most likely he was born sometimes around 1850 in Clermont-Ferrand and sentenced in 1889 for 20 years for burglary. Sometimes around 1893 he was assigned to a prison in Iracoubou.

This man definitely did not have a placid character. Six times he tried to escape from prison until he was released after serving his term in 1909.

Father Raffray invited (or rather - insisted) him to decorate the church and Huguet did this, covering some 600 m² inside the church with many colors and artworks.

This man barely could write and read - but he clearly had good skills at painting and a vivid imagination.

Prisoner naïvety

This unexpected artist endowed Iracoubou village with a true wonder of art. The church is ornamented with garish, somewhat tasteless and at the same time - very charming frescoes.

Artist with good skills made faux-marble, he painted garlands of flowers and diverse characters from the Bible. People in Iracoubou were living amidst exotic tropical nature - but the paintings are replicas / interpretation of the Baroque and Rococo art from the distant France and, besides the gaudy colors, show almost no local influence.

The frescoes of Iracoubou church are a good representative of naïve art. Such art does not pretend to be sophisticated and "professional" but at the same time it is inspiring and with its own, unexpected richness.

Today naïve art is a recognized value and Iracoubou St. Josephs Church is rare and exquisite example of this style.


See Iracoubou Church on the map of French Guiana!


  1. L’église d’Iracoubo. Colors de Guyane. Accessed in 08.03.2012.

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