The unique Church of Jogja

The candi resembles a worshipping hall in the Hindu Temple — Prambanan.

YOGYAKARTA, also called Jogja, is a heritage destination of ancient temples — among them Mahayana Buddhist Borobudur and Hindu Prambanan.

The diverse and rich Javanese arts and cultures make Jogja more interesting than other temple cities in Asia.

Although with a large Muslim population, Jogja has amazingly inter-mixed its ancient customs with Hindu and Buddhist influences, yet the Javanese culture is still intact, not just in the architecture and performing arts but also the daily activities and lifestyles.

Javanese acceptance of other cultures and faiths is proven by the Ganjuran Church, known as The Sacred Heart of Jesus or Gereja Hati Kudus Yesus, where one could see the shrines and statues of Jesus and Mary in Javanese fashion.

Ganjuran Church is considered off-the-beaten track in Jogja’s tourist trail. Built in 1924, it is a place of worship and meditation about 20km from Yogyakarta and can reached by motorcycle or car.

Tourists and visitors are greeted by the mellowing sights of green rice fields and pine trees on entering Ganjuran Village where the Church is located.

“Visiting this Church, you will get to know about its history, the enculturation of the Catholic community with the local community and finally, the peacefulness,” said tour guide-cum-driver Dante Gherry.

The Church was built on the initiative of two Dutch relatives — Joseph Smutzer and Julius Smutzer who operated Gondang Lipura Sugar Factory in the area in 1912.

The development of the Church complex was completed with the construction of a ‘candi’ (temple) named Jesus Sacred Heart Temple in 1927.

The Temple — its terrace has a statue of Jesus and is decorated with lotus flowers — is another venue for celebrating Holy Mass and making a Pilgrimage, in addition to offering a closeness with Javanese culture.

On entering the Church’s concrete gates, it is easy to mistake it for a community hall or even a school.

The feature that sets its uniqueness apart is the cross at the rooftop combined with its exterior Javanese design. Inside, the pews are typically arranged for Mass fellowship.

The coloured columns and ceiling are strikingly Javanese. Layered and structured in an unconventional, yet elegant, style, Ganjuran Church’s ceiling resembles the ‘Kraton’ or Sultan’s palace.

The ‘angels’ forming the guards at the altar are created in wayang-style — the design of Javanese puppet theatre.

“The statues of Jesus and Mother Mary are labelled with Javanese royal titles, giving them their local identities,” Dante explained.

The most prominent Javanese design can be found in the prayer altar at the right side of the compound where the ‘candi’ resembles a worshipping hall in the Hindu Temple Prambanan.

Javanese customs are strictly followed here — climbing the ‘candi’ stairs barefoot when praying, and offering incense and flowers.

In the Stations of the Cross, Jesus, his oppressors and Pontius Pilate are all depicted in traditional Javanese wear and accessories.

After the severe destruction caused by the earthquake of 2006, the Church has been restored with a new form emphasising original Javanese design.

Walking around the Church, one will realise the building was designed by integrating European, Hindu and Javanese styles.

European style is seen from the shape of the building, forming a cross from above while Javanese style is seen from the roof, forming a ‘tajug’, supported by four teakwood pillars, symbolising the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Tourists can take the Holy Water on the left side of the ‘candi’. After that, they can sit cross-legged in front of the Temple and pray. The procession of the celebration of Holy Mass ends with an entry into the temple and a prayer in front of the statue of Christ.

Some pilgrims take the Holy Water, put it in a bottle and bring it home after saying a prayer.

“If tourists want to take part in the celebration of Holy Mass in Javanese language with songs accompanied by gamelan, they can come to the Church on Thursdays and Sundays at 5.30am, every night of the first Friday, Saturdays at 5pm and Christmas.

“The Holy Mass is celebrated at the Temple yard, except the Daily Mass which takes place in the Church at 5.30am,” Dante said.

Ganjuran Church is an exemplary display of cultural hybrid in design and architecture that are distinctly Javanese with devotional necessities required by the Church.

The roof forming the ‘tajug’ is supported by four teakwood pillars, symbolising the four Gospel writers — Matthew, Mark, Luke and John.

Entrance to Ganjuran Church.

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