Imagine for a moment that you have a dream. In that dream, you see an oversized pure-white dove perched on a hill. A week later in real life, you travel to another village and coincidentally see the same hill! Well, of course it’s a sign from God, so you better hurry and build a temple there.
If you think that’s bonkers, consider that it is precisely what happened to Daniel Alamsjah, the architect of the bizarre Chicken Church in Central Java, Indonesia.
Something doesn’t quite add up, you say. Wasn’t it a dove? I find it quite funny that the Chicken Church is neither chicken nor a church. It’s hard to define what it is exactly.
This chicken-shaped temple was abandoned for a decade before any efforts were put into its restoration and preservation. Today it is still half-finished, functioning as a museum in the jungles close to Borobudur.
The Chicken Church (Gereja Ayam) is a short stop on my complete 14-day Java Backpacking Itinerary.
The Story of the Chicken Church, Indonesia
The Chicken Church is not something ancient from time immemorial, nor a colonial building from the Dutch period. It’s rather contemporary and has a fascinating story.
Daniel Alamsjah was 45 years old when he got that dream/vision in 1988. He’s a Christian in a nation predominantly Muslim. Indonesia is the largest Muslim nation on Earth, but Christians still make up almost 11% of the population or around 29 million people. That’s a lot of people! There are plenty of churches in Java and in the rest of Indonesia.
Despite this fact, Mr. Alamsjah said he was building “a temple for all nations” prompted by a Bible verse he heard in his dream:
Then a week later at the end of Ramadan, Alamsjah traveled to his wife’s hometown of Magelang. A local man invited Alamsjah to watch the sunrise over Borobudur from Bukit Rhema- something that locals and tourists do to this day. Bukit Rhema is a hill surrounded by holy mountains (the Javanese believe they are) on the outskirts of Magelang.
Upon seeking Bukit Rhema, Alamsjah immediately remembered his dream, because it was that same hill and that same view that he saw!
Daniel Alamsjah managed to buy the land on top of Bukih Rhema and start building. He designed the temple himself and oversaw the construction.
Building started in 1992 and was mired in controversies of all sorts.
For starters, it was supposed to be dove-shaped, but when Alamsjah decided to put a crown on top of the dove’s head (for holiness, you know, because nothing screams “I’m holy” like a crown, i.e. the symbol of power. But I digress) it immediately transformed into a rooster/chicken in the eyes of onlookers. I mean, look at it, it’s definitely not anything like a dove!
Then there were the complaints that it was a church in a Muslim neighborhood. “It’s God’s Temple for all nations”, Alamsjah would say, but him being Christian and all meant nobody would believe it. The building had an altar and the layout of a church too, so there was that.
8 years after construction had started, the money ended. The dove/chicken/church/temple/house of prayer was nowhere near being finished.
God may compel you to build a temple in his name and for all nations, but will not give you the funds for that. At least not yet.
In the early 2000s, the Chicken Church (or Gereja Ayam, as it is called in Indonesian) stood abandoned. Quarter-finished (maybe not even) and more creepy than holy, Alamsjah creation was a popular hangout spot for punks, trouble-makers, and aspiring graffiti masters.
But a church that looks like a chicken attracts attention far and wide. Backpackers have a way of finding out about weird places like Gereja Ayam. Local tourists would also hop over to explore the abandoned unfinished temple.
So Alamsjah did what any businessman would do – he started charging entrance fees.
And then came the big turning moment. Bukit Rhema and Gereja Ayam were one of the places where the sequel to the hit Indonesian romantic drama movie Ada Apa Dengan Cinta (What’s Up With Love”) was shot.
Popularity exploded overnight.
Alamsjah started to make some grand buck (ahem, rupiah) and had enough money to continue with his vision.
God really does work in mysterious ways.
Alamsjah invested in renovating his passion project. New tiles, new windows, new exhibition panels, new info boards, a new paved road leading up to the Temple, new prayer rooms for different religions in the underground chambers, and a new cafe in the rear of the dove/chicken.
As of 2023, the Chicken Church is still not finished but is a popular attraction and museum.
The Chicken Church Today
The Chicken Church operates as a museum with an entrance fee of 25.000 IDR / 1.7$.
It’s desperately trying to rebrand under the name Bukit Rhema, a House of Prayer for All Nations, but let’s be honest, chances are everyone will keep calling it the Chicken Church. Sorry, Mr. Alamsjah.
In the main hall, there’s an exhibition following the construction history of the temple.
In the front part of the chicken’s body are two floors of exhibitions. On the first floor, you can see pictures that warn of the dangers of drugs in the comic-book-style graphics found in street art across Indonesia.
On the second floor, there are pictures of the wedding ceremonial clothes of people from all regions of Indonesia, from Sumatra to Papua.
On the third floor, there isn’t really anything, but it’s the waiting area to go to the top of the chicken’s head, i.e. the crown and the viewpoint. Only 5 people are allowed at any one time and only for 3 minutes. It’s a bit disappointing, but it is what it is.
Also, you cannot watch the sunrise over Borobudur from Bukit Rhema anymore! The museum opens at 7:00, which is at least an hour after sunrise.
On the other end, in the chicken’s butt is the cafe. Every ticket doubles down as a free snack voucher. The snack is Latela Gombong Cassava, basically fried cassava. Not the best to be honest, but at least it’s free. Here’s a list of amazing Indonesian street food snacks to try.
In the underground chambers of the Chicken Church, you can find the prayer chambers for different religions (proving it’s a multifaith temple, not a church), some more pictures and stories about the place’s history, and the Wall of Hope where visitors write their dreams on a piece of paper and pin them.
How to get to Gereja Ayam, the Chicken Church
Bukit Rhema Gereja Ayam is located about 30 minutes by car/scooter from Magelang or around 60 minutes from Yogyakarta.
The easiest way to get there is to rent a scooter from Yogyakarta where you’d most probably be staying. Rent a scooter from in front of Lempuyangan Station (or ask your hostel). Expect to pay between 70.000 to 150.000 IDR (4.7-6.7$) for a one-day rental.
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To reach the Chicken Church by public transportation from Yogyakarta, you must first get to Jombor Terminal. Take a bus to Borobudur. There are a few daily, on average once per hour. It costs 30.000 IDR / 2$. Then take a Grab motorcycle taxi to Gereja Ayam (around 20.000 IDR / 1.3$).
In either case, you’ll stop at the parking area and be offered a severely overpriced shuttle to take you up the hill. Yes, it’s a steep hill, but it’s only 200 meters and 15.000 IDR / 1$ is way too much for that service.
It’s best to combine a visit to Borobudur with a visit to Gereja Ayam afterwards.