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Gereja Ayam: the curious “chicken church” in the middle of the Indonesian forest

3 min read

We are in the thick forest of Magelang, Indonesia. If you be trekking here, try not to be too alarmed if you stumble upon a massive building shaped like a chicken. Yes, a chicken.
Known as Gereja Ayam (unsurprisingly, “Chicken Church”), this moldering, behemoth, bird-like building is an unexpected, pictoresque and whimsical sight to stumble upon.
The church’s unusual design has inspired many debates and fan theories over the years, each one attempting to solve the mystery of why someone would spend money to build a chicken in the middle of the forest. According to someone, It was left behind by the Dutch colonists, and other said that It’s haunted, and to have seen kuntilanak (vampiric female demons from Indonesian folklore) there.
However, the building isn’t a Dutch remnant, and it’s not haunted by ghosts, either.

The locals have dubbed it the Chicken Church, and it’s easy to see why, even though the name is a bit of a misnomer: the visionary behind the now crumbling chapel is a man, Daniel Alamsjah, and meant it to look like a dove. The man behind the weird structure was a Christian, but he says that in 1988, after his nightly prayers, he received a vision of a dove with snow-white wings, resting at the top of a hill, and a disembodied voice asked him to build a house of worship for all people.
Thus, he picked a forested hill near Magelang, the same of his dream, to build his pious tribute, and created possibly the most bird-like building in the world, complete with giant, squawking head, and ornate decorative tail feathers.
Actually, it did look like a dove, in the beginning. But then builders added the crown. Daniel wanted it to symbolize holiness, but people thought it was a rooster crest. So locals started calling it chicken instead of dove.

Together with 30 locals, construction began in 1992, but the project was plagued by problems from the start. According to Alamsjah, a major newspaper in Indonesia published a report on him in 1996, stating that a Christian man was building a church in a Muslim neighborhood. Local officials, spurred by the rush of complaints that followed the article, tried unsuccessfully to withdraw the building license.
The building wasn’t for just Christians, and was supposed to contain rooms for Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Catholics, designed to be inclusive.
In any case, the prayer house opened its doors (or spread its wings, literally) and it welcomed any religions that wanted to make the trek, including Buddhists, Muslims, and Christians, holding services in the upper floors, while the lower floors provided rehab and juvenile outreach, among other charitable services.
Unfortunately, in 2000, further construction costs became too high and a lack of funds forced Daniel Alamsjah to quit the project in the middle of construction. The poor chicken-dove-church was vacated, and left to the forest. Without a caretaker, it quickly fell into disrepair. The weeds around the structure grew back, and vandals snuck in to hang out and scribble on its walls.

However, there is a happy ending: recently, the Chicken Church been cleaned up and turned into a proper tourist attraction. Local artists have covered the inner walls with vibrant murals showing local mythology and history and there’s a small cafe nestled within the chicken’s rear that sells traditional, tasty treats. In addition, it is possible even climb up to the top of the bird’s head for amazing 360-degree views.
The Chicken Church has also gained some media attention: after appearance in a few major international media like the Huffington Post and the Daily Mail, in 2016 the documentary film “Into the Inferno” has a section devoted to the temple highlighting the connection to the nearby volcano.

Images from web.

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