Photo: It's fowl!

Chicken Church

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A giant cement chicken roosting on a forested hill overlooking Borobudur is perhaps a little unexpected, but this is not a cock-and-bull story. In the late 1980s Daniel Alamsjah (who sounds like a good egg, but a bit cracked) was cooped up in Jakarta, and began hatching a plan after he was egged on by God via a vision to build a house of prayer shaped like a… er, dove.

Maybe a cock-up, but something seems to have been lost in the translation and the resulting “Gereja Ayam” (chicken church) as it’s locally called, was not all it was cracked up to be and for years laid abandoned in the jungle.

There she cheeps. Photo taken in or around Chicken Church , Yogyakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

There she cheeps. Photo: Sally Arnold

Daniel started to bring the dove (chicken) idea home to roost after visiting his wife’s family in Magelang and seeing some land he was cock-sure was the same as in his epiphany. He didn’t have a nest egg to finance the purchase, so instead of running around like a chicken with its head cut off, he got cracking and prayed to God. Subsequently he was offered the land at Bukit Rhema for the poultry (sorry) sum of 2 million rupiah. He still didn’t have the cash (even though it was chicken feed), but didn’t want the opportunity to fly by, so decided to wing it and pay it off over a few years.

The intention of the rather bizarre building was no bird-brained idea, but one of love, to bring people of different nationalities and faiths together to pray in one place—birds of different feathers flocking together to feather the nest of world peace.

A literal bird's eye view. Well, almost. Photo taken in or around Chicken Church , Yogyakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

A literal bird's eye view. Well, almost. Photo: Sally Arnold

But perhaps the story is not all it’s cracked up to be? There are rumours that the building was to be used for a drug rehabilitation project, and when we visited, we ventured into the bowels of the fowl and found several cell-like rooms. It was creepy in a chicken-coop-cult kind of way, but we were too chicken to explore more.

In interviews, Daniel has confirmed that while he once scratched out a living in drug rehabilitation, the small cells are in intended as private meditation rooms. The unusual house of prayer closed its doors a few years after it was opened, as it seems he’d counted his chickens before they hatched, as cost of construction became prohibitive (although there were rumours that he’d ruffled a few feathers in the community).

In the bowel of the fowl. Photo taken in or around Chicken Church , Yogyakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

In the bowel of the fowl. Photo: Sally Arnold

In recent years the Chicken Church has been something to crow about on social media, and tourists have been flocking for a gander. Perhaps Daniel no longer has egg on his face. Some construction work had began when we visited, so maybe his idea is no longer as dead as a dodo and may yet come to fruition (a bit of a chicken and egg situation).

We climbed up into the chicken’s head for a bird’s-eye view of the surrounds. The interior walls of the head are painted with anti-drug messages reminiscent of old fairground posters—still creepy. From the open beak, the outlook is pretty good, but climb the narrow stairs to the crown on top of the head for sweeping views where from the front, as the crow flies, you can see Borobudur in the distance—from the ridiculous to the sublime.

A popular domestic tourist spot! Photo taken in or around Chicken Church , Yogyakarta, Indonesia by Sally Arnold.

A popular domestic tourist spot! Photo: Sally Arnold

An absurdity such as the Chicken Church is as rare as hens’ teeth, so we’d recommend when you visit nearby Borobudur, kill two birds with one stone, shake a tail feather and venture on over. Remember a bird in the hand is worth two in the bush. If you are keen to contact Daniel Alamsjah, his details are below.

How to get there
The Chicken Church is a 15-minute drive from Borobudur. Public buses go to Borobudur, but you’ll have to use a taxi or ojek to the church, as there’s no local public transport.

The Chicken Church is perched on the top of a very steep hill, walkable in about 15 minutes, but locals offer to drop you up by jeep—a one-way trip is 7,000 rupiah per person.

Chicken Church
Jalan Raya Borobudur Salaman Km. 2.5 Wringin Putih, Magelang
Mon-Fri 06:00-17:00, Sat-Sun 05:00-17:00.
T: (0812) 1553 5806 (Daniel Alamsjah)
Admission: Foreigners 15,000 rupiah, Indonesians 10,000 rupiah (cheap)

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