Who hasn’t at some time in their life dreamed of building a secret underground temple, a giant golden llama or a monument to Shirley Bassey made entirely of Nobby’s Nuts? Such singular visions, however, remain unbuilt without the necessary ingredients of money, monomania and several hundred spare weekends. But add a catalysing crisis, epiphany or “calling”, and you’re away.
For Daniel Alamsjah, a devout Christian living in Java, Indonesia, his call came one night in 1988 in the form of a divine vision. Before him, Alamsjah saw a building shaped like a giant dove, residing on a hilltop. It would be, a disembodied voice affirmed, a place of worship for all faiths. And Alamsjah was just the man to build it.
Some time later, walking in the Magelang jungle, Alamsjah recognised Bukit Rhema as the hill from his vision. Within a week, he had bought an acre of land on top and begun the necessary steps for seeking permission to build.
Paper trails were immense, resistance strong, but perseverance and zeal won the day. For nearly 10 years, Alamsjah – then working full-time as a project manager – spent every weekend overseeing the construction of his bird-shaped prayer house. When the main structure was completed, the giant crowned dove sat atop its hill, tail cocked, beak open as if in a state of permanent surprise at its own existence.
Alamsjah’s vision may have been of a dove, but its resemblance to an altogether different bird earned it its better-known moniker, Gereja Ayam – Chicken Church. By now, however, Alamsjah was broke and had to surrender his creation to the jungle. It fell into decay and he into despair.
But over the next 15 years, visitors to Borobudur, the world’s largest Buddhist temple nearby, began to hear of a different architectural wonder just a few miles away. The curious sought out the abandoned, graffitied Chicken Church, unable to believe their eyes.
As stories and images circulated on the internet, visitor numbers grew exponentially. Alamsjah returned and began charging a nominal entrance fee. Building recommenced. Decay had, paradoxically, ignited a rebirth.
Nowadays the Chicken Church’s many floors are decorated with jewelled tiles, ceilings are painted with clouds, walls filled with scenes from Indonesian mythology. Twelve prayer rooms have been created in its catacombs. Early birds can watch the sunrise from its crown. It even has a cafe, in the bird’s posterior. The eggs come highly recommended.