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.
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.
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 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 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.
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 called the structure Gereja Ayam, the Chicken Church.
“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).
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.
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).
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.
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.
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
Gereja Ayam, the Chicken Church
Kembanglimus, Kurahan, Karangrejo
Jawa Tengah 56553