The Chicken Church of Java, Indonesia

Bukhit Rhema is such a bird-brained idea that it’s a kitchcy — and dare we say egg-cellent — side trip to the temples of Prambanan and Borobudur.

 Known as the Chicken Church, it’s actually neither a chicken nor a church

Known as the Chicken Church, it’s actually neither a chicken nor a church

The Lord moves in mysterious ways.

And sometimes that means a church that’s built to look like a dove actually comes out looking more like an ignoble chicken.

To add insult to injury, the building known as the Chicken Church wasn’t ever supposed to actually be a church.

It’s the type of rundown place you’d imagine some doomsday cult taking over.

In fact, it’s rumored to be haunted by vampiric female ghosts.

I know the man behind this unusual structure had a different vision in mind, but the end result is really quite comical. The “dove” has liberty spikes atop its head, crosses on its eyes and what appears to be a studded collar, giving it the look of a blotto punk rocker.

 This is what it looks like when doves cry: The now-run-down structure was the vision of a man who was called to build a house of prayer

This is what it looks like when doves cry: The now-run-down structure was the vision of a man who was called to build a house of prayer

This unusual structure has taken roost in the middle of the jungle in Magelang, Indonesia on the island of Java, near the Hindu temple complex of Prambanan and the Buddhist temple of Borobudur.

Cars must park down the hill in a lot. A bit up the hill, you’ll see a ticket booth (the admission price is 10,000 rupiah, less than a buck). Then it’s a five-minute walk up a steep hill to get to the chicken. Think of it as a mini-pilgrimage.

Duke had seen images of an abandoned interior, covered in dust and graffiti, and to be honest, that’s what he was hoping to find. But the building has been renovated — though don’t expect too much.

 The building would make a lovely setting for cult meetings

The building would make a lovely setting for cult meetings

The cavernous interior is still quite bare-bones, featuring a cluster of seats in rows but no altar or anything else, in fact, that recalls a place of worship. It looks like a depressing concrete community center. The tilework on the floor is the most impressive part. It’s the type of rundown place you’d imagine some doomsday cult taking over.

It wasn’t ever fully furnished because its builder ran out of money.

It’s rumored to be haunted, home to kuntilanak, vampiric female ghosts from Indonesian folklore.

 Heavenly rays of light illuminate the decaying interior

Heavenly rays of light illuminate the decaying interior

Whose birdbrained scheme was this, anyway? The idea came to Daniel Alamsjah in what he describes as a “vision from God.” One night after praying, he saw a dove with snow-white wings resting at the top of a hill. A voice asked him to build a house of prayer for all nations.  

The end result went a bit fowl (#sorrynotsorry), and locals started calling the structure Gereja Ayam, the Chicken Church.

 The angels out front are a nod to the builder’s Christian beliefs

The angels out front are a nod to the builder’s Christian beliefs

“Perhaps because of my Christian faith, people thought I was building a church,” Alamsjah told the Jakarta Globe. “I was building a prayer house, not a church, but a place for people who believe in God.”

In the 1990s, he was able to purchase the land, which was said to be offered at Rp. 2 million (a mere $170 at the time).

 Looking back at the tail feathers from the lookout on the bird’s head

Looking back at the tail feathers from the lookout on the bird’s head

Bird’s-Eye View

Duke and I wanted to do the head first, so, upon entering the building, we turned to the right and began climbing up the back staircase. On the first landing, we were delighted to find a series of brightly painted cautionary tales, much like those tiny free comic booklets missionaries hand out on street corners (apparently they’re called Chick tracts). Inevitably, they’d have a scene where some poor sap suffered the flames of Hell, coming to the realization — too late — that he didn’t accept Jesus Christ as his personal savior.

 The mezzanine is covered with brightly painted murals that display bad behaviors

The mezzanine is covered with brightly painted murals that display bad behaviors

From there, we continued our climb to the inside of the chicken’s skull. To access the lookout, you have to head up a tottering spiral staircase and step out onto a small platform atop the bird’s head. Thin metal guardrails encircle the lookout. My vertigo sent my head swimming, so I stayed as close to the center as I could (except, of course, to pose for a picture with a volcano in the background).

 Duke and Wally atop the chicken’s, err, dove’s head

Duke and Wally atop the chicken’s, err, dove’s head

Two girls were also on the platform and asked if they could take our picture. We found that the kids on Java were fascinated by us — at the tourist sites, we couldn’t go 5 feet without being begged to pose for a photograph.

 Looking out one of the windows on the ground floor

Looking out one of the windows on the ground floor

After practically tumbling down the spiral staircase, Duke and I headed to the first floor to check out the chicken’s butt. Toward the back of the building, there’s a strange area with dirt and an exposed wall. Photos of people touching the wall, ecstatic glows upon their faces, revealed that they believe there to be magic lying within.

Perhaps they’re scenes from the Chicken Church’s past: A dozen unfinished chambers lie underneath it, which were once used for rehabilitation.

“The rehabilitation that happened at this prayer house was for therapy for disabled children, drug addicts, crazy people and disturbed youth who wanted to fight,” Alamsjah says.

The “dove” has liberty spikes atop its head and crosses on its eyes, giving it the look of a blotto punk rocker.
 This truck will take you up the hill if you don’t want to walk

This truck will take you up the hill if you don’t want to walk

We climbed up the back stairs, gave a girl our ticket for a free local treat that came with our price of admission. The snack turned out to be bahn cay, fried cassava root, the Javanese version of home fries.

We munched our carbs, gazing out at the lush green hills beyond, glad we made time for this quirky stopover.

Don’t be chicken: If you’re hitting Prambanan or Borobudur, make a chicken run (can’t stop making puns!) and include a visit to this unintentionally goofy site. –Wally

 The Bukit Rhema was supposed to actually resemble a dove, the symbol of peace

The Bukit Rhema was supposed to actually resemble a dove, the symbol of peace

 “Take me to my leader”

“Take me to my leader”

Bukhit Rhema
Gereja Ayam, the Chicken Church

Dusun Gombong
Kembanglimus, Kurahan, Karangrejo
Borobudur, Magelang
Jawa Tengah 56553
Indonesia