Located amidst the thick forests of Magelang, Indonesia, is a huge building shaped like a ‘chicken’. Originally intended to look like a dove, this giant embellished structure is situated less than 20 minutes away from Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist monument. This unexpected sight, Gereja Ayam, now commonly known as the ‘Chicken Church’, was envisioned by Daniel Alamsjah, who received a holy vision of a dove resting on top of a hill. Following his divine vision, he lead to the structure being one of the largest, which resembles a bird with such gigantic features and embellishment.

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Daniel Alamsjah in the mini museum inside the church_©Atlas ObscuraEricSuwardi

The ‘Chicken’ Church

Built over 31,500 square feet of land, Alamsjah with his team of thirty, wanted the final structure of Gereja Ayam to strongly resemble the image of a white dove resting on top of the hill from his prophetic vision where a voice asked him to build a place of worship for all people. The framework made use of materials such as handmade cement, bricks, sand, and scrap metal. It comprised two floors with multiple side rooms as private spaces for prayer and worship. The lower floor was meant to function as a rehabilitation center with an outreach program for juveniles. Unfortunately with the addition of a crown, a red beak, and a gigantic gray body, people started to perceive it as a rooster rather than a dove. Hence the name, Chicken church.

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Gereja Ayam, Chicken Church_©Matt Smith
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Gereja Ayam_©Matt Smith

The Fall

The construction of this multi-faith prayer house for the people began in the 1990s on top of the hill, Rhema, in the Magelang forest. The local natives and residents could not acknowledge Alamsjah’s original vision, and hence Gereja Ayam faced a lot of resistance soon after its construction commenced. In 1996, a major newspaper ran a report stating Alamsjah building a church in Muslim neighborhood. Complaints rushed in to withdraw the building’s license despite Alamsjah’s explanation for this inclusive structure. Even though the complaints were unsuccessful, the project then had to be completely shut down by the year 2000 due to lack of funding, leading to its complete abandonment in the forest, where it started to decay and degenerate with time. The construction of the second and the third floors could not begin at all along with the incompleteness of the prayer rooms and absence of flooring.

Since Alamsjah could not afford a caretaker, the church got covered with weeds and was prone to vandalism. Alamsjah then switched to facilitating a rehab center nearby and would take the help of his employees to collect some entrance fees for the church for visitors who would arrive once in a while. For more than two decades, the church had been left abandoned in the deep forest.

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Church Tail_©Atlas Obscura

The Revival

Magelang has become one of the most popular tourist destinations in the country of Indonesia with the presence of the Borobudur temple, which now qualifies as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. It led to the accidental discovery of the “Chicken Church”, which is only three miles away. Despite being a degenerating structure, it does add an element when one stumbles upon it on their way out of the Borobudur Temple. After fifteen years of halted construction, it went viral internationally via The Daily Mail and the Huffington with both released features. Later, it also was used as a site in the shooting of an Indonesian film “Ada Apa Dengan Cinta” (What’s the Deal With Love). In 2016, it also appeared in a documentary film ‘Into the Inferno’, highlighting the nearby volcano. With increasing population and recognition, it had almost 2000 visitors per week leading to the collection of funds for resuming construction of Gereja Ayam. It also led to better social acceptance among locals as it boosted tourism.

Currently, it is no longer abandoned and is an active site for tourists. It has undergone restoration and renovations and has also nearly completed the underground prayer halls. It documents the project’s growth from a dream to reality in its present form. Now it also consists of a small cafe in the rear end where it sells Indonesian snacks and coffee since its increasing popularity among tourists. It has an amazing 360 view from the top of the bird’s head. With the recognition of this unconventional structure and fascinating history, tourism has flourished at Gereja Ayam. It is now not only a popular tourist destination, but also one for couples posing for wedding photographs, and even for rare people who want to get married at the Gereja Ayam.

“You know, everyone said I was crazy. In the 90s, I kept re-reading that [Bible] verse, trying to find the courage to continue. My children were very angry at me. I had to keep telling them, this isn’t my plan. This is God’s plan. It’s been 30 years, and I’m glad I continued – thousands of visitors come each year to pray or to reflect on their lives, and my children finally respect what I’ve accomplished.” – Alamsjah.

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Inside the church_©Atlas Obscura
On top of the church_©Matt Smith

References:

Atlas Obscura. 2021. Indonesia’s Chicken Church. [online] Available at: <https://www.atlasobscura.com/places/gereja-ayam> 

Obscura, A., 2021. Inside Indonesia’s Visionary Chicken Church – The News Lens International Edition. [online] The News Lens International Edition. Available at: <https://international.thenewslens.com/article/94913> 

Ststworld.com. 2021. Gereja Ayam: The ‘Chicken Church’ of Indonesia Was Meant to Serve As a Prayer House for All Religions – STSTW. [online] Available at: <https://www.ststworld.com/gereja-ayam-the-chicken-church-of-indonesia/> 

Author

Prachita Rijhwani is an architecture graduate and a passionate musician. A keen observer and a curious learner, you will always find her exploring a new hobby. When it comes to design, she believes it to be the best medium to express innovation and logic together.

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