Amazing Places

The Heartwarming Story of Indonesia's Chicken Church

As the largest Buddhist temple ever built, Borobudur in Indonesia is truly one of the world's great wonders. But it's not the only iconic place of worship on the island of Java. Just 15 minutes to the west of the enormous stone structure, if you venture a bit into the jungle, you'll find yourself standing in a clearing, looking up at the largest chicken you've ever seen. This is Gereja Ayam: the Chicken Church.

A Dream Takes Wing

Gereja Ayam was the dream of Daniel Alamsjah. And we do mean "dream." In 1988, Alamsjah, a Christian, began having visions and dreams of a peaceful, snow-white dove resting on a hill. Although he experienced these visions frequently, he didn't start taking them seriously until a strange encounter he had with one of his employees. The employee had taken an extra day off of work after Ramadan, and Alamsjah went to visit him in the city of Magelang. There, the man asked Alamsjah if he would sit and watch the sunset with him from a local spot called Bukit Rhema (Rhema Hill) — and to his amazement, the place bore a striking resemblance to the hill in his dream. Two weeks later, he had purchased about an acre of the land for $2,000.

His course was clear. Just like Kevin Costner had to build a baseball field, Daniel Alamsjah had to build a church shaped like a dove. Unfortunately, the dove's radiant crown ended up looking like a chicken's wattle, so the nickname "Chicken Church" affixed itself early on. From the very beginning, Alamsjah didn't conceive of his project as being constrained to any one religion or denomination. Still, he experienced a lot of resistance from people in the neighborhood, who saw him as bringing an unwelcome Christian presence to the majority Muslim area.

By 2000, about eight years after construction had begun on the church, Alamsjah was going broke and tied up in red tape. He was forced to quit construction, even though the second and third floors had yet to be started, and most of the subterranean section was unfinished as well. He took on a new job at a rehabilitation center, and for about 15 years the partially completed building slowly crumbled, occasionally functioning as a shelter for clients from the center.

The interior of Gereja Ayam

A Bird Reborn

Getting people to start calling Gereja Ayam the Dove Church is probably a lost cause. But despite its darkest days, recent years have seen the church start to become the pan-religious house of prayer that Alamsjah envisioned all those years ago. Enlivened by an influx of tourists in the mid-2010s, the church has been able to finally start putting the finishing touches on rooms that have sat untouched since the turn of the century. Now, the dirt floors have been replaced with jeweled tiles by local artisans, and the plain walls have been transformed with gorgeous, full-cover murals depicting the history of Indonesia. It's a gorgeous sight to see — and you can see it for 10,000 rupiahs, or around 72 cents.

There's a whole world of unbelievable buildings out there. Check out "A Spotter's Guide to Amazing Architecture" from Lonely Planet — they'll show you where all the weird and wonderful buildings are in your hometown. We sometimes choose books we think you'd like and recommend them. If you purchase through the above link, Curiosity will receive a portion of the sale. We'd really appreciate your support.

You Could Do Worse Than Worshipping in a Chicken Church

Written by Reuben Westmaas May 21, 2018

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