Haverford College ’13
Since I have been in Indonesia I have attempted to visit many religious sites. Although this is somewhat unrelated to my research, I believe it is important to study religious tradition in Indonesia in order to attempt to understand Indonesia as a whole (a largely an impossible task anyhow).
The Ganjuran Church of the Sacred Heart (Hati Kudus in Bahasa Indonesia) in Central Java, about an hour away from Yogyakarta, is a Catholic church, temple, and shrine dedicated to the Sacred Heart, the passionate devotion to Jesus’ physical heart as the representation of His divine love for Humanity. The Church was built by Joseph and Julius Smultzer, two Dutch brothers, who were followers of the Church’s social tenet Rerum Novarum. Rerum Novorum, meaning “Of New Things,” the title of Pope Leo XIII’s letter subtitled: “Rights and Duties of Capital and Labor.” It discussed “the relationships and mutual duties between labour and obtaining capital, as well as government and its citizens. Of primary concern was the need for some amelioration for ‘the misery and wretchedness pressing so unjustly on the majority of the working class’.” The decree further emphasizes that the relationship between master and worker was not supposed to be subordinate relationship but rather a relationship between partners, an irony that many Christian missionaries had to face while carrying the Good News under the banner of colonialism.
The church, temple, and shrine was completed in 1927. In 2006, during the earthquake that wrecked much of Java, the church was destroyed. It was rebuilt in 2008.
It is noteworthy because of its incorporation of European, Hindu, Buddhist, Javanese, and Muslim traditions. The classic style of Dutch architecture can be seen from the exterior of the building and its sharp upward angle, different than Javanese style. From above, the roof looks like a cross.
The Javanese style is most evident by the open-air style of the church, emphasizing the traditional Javanese, and Hindu, relationship with nature. The church has no walls on three-sides (left, right, and back) allowing the ocean breeze (there is a beach nearby) to strike believers during service. Also, the presence of traditional instruments such as the gamelan is unique to the church. The Javanese instruments are used for the singing of psalms and hymns during services. Javanese influence can also be seen from the roof forming tajug that is supported by four teakwood pillars, symbolizing the four Gospel writers, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John On the altar, two angels are kneeling beside a tabernacle with a relief of Jesus crucified. All three wear Javanese dress and the angels adorn a crown typical of Javanese nobility while Jesus and Mary wear the clothing of Javanese royalty.
Outside the church lies the Sacred Heart Temple of Christ. It is strikingly similar to Hindu and Buddhist temples and shrines seen famously at Borobodur, Prambanan, and many places in Bali. I spoke to a retired Catholic priest from Java about this temple-shrine. What I gathered from our conversation was that the bottom altar, in Javanese tradition (which itself is strongly influenced by Buddhism and Hinduism), symbolized our mundane, earthly world, while the staircase up to Christ and the Sacred Heart symbolized the soul’s journey toward the sacred. Reaching Christ himself was enlightenment: nirvana. Hindu and Buddhist style can also be seen from the reliefs at every stop of the Via Dolorosa. There, Jesus is also described as having “the hair of the Hindu monks.”
Believers ritually cleanse themselves in a process remarkably similar to Muslim practices of wuḍū before interacting with the sacred. There are nine stations, tirta perwitasari, for ritual cleansing representing the nine holes of the body of a human being. The nine holes of a human body are one mouth, two eyes, two nostrils, two ear holes, one anus, and one sexual organ. The significance is that when a person is able to nutupi babahan nawa sanga in Javanese, or able to close the nine holes, one will be a perfect person, who is able to control one’s carnal, bodily, physical desires, similar to Buddhism’s emphasis on the spirit over the body. Attendees believe that the water flowing from the ritual cleansing site have the power of healing and are allowed to take some home with them in plastic bottles, similar to Muslim beliefs about the power of the water of at the zam-zam well in the Masjid al-Haram in Mecca.
Inside the shrine is a statue of Christ, complete in Javanese royal attire, pointing toward the Sacred Heart. Above Christ’s head is a sentence written in Javanese saying, “sampeyan dalem sang maha prabu Yesus Kristus pangeraning para Bangsa” meaning “Your Highness Jesus Christ, the Lord of the World.” The shrine was built for the remembrance of the holiness of Jesus’ heart which persists through time and transcends mundane cultural boundaries, elucidating the Javanese adaption of the religious symbols of Catholicism.
Believers pray both in front of the temple, on the temple, inside the shrine, or inside the church. Some held rosaries, others simply sat cross-legged with their eyes closed reciting prayers.
The Ganjuran Church of the Sacred Heart speaks to larger issues of religion in Indonesia. While many believers among other faith-traditions in other places might be wary of using a term like syncretism, the blending of two or more religious systems into a new system, or the incorporation into a religious tradition of beliefs from unrelated traditions, to describe their religion, many of my sources were Catholics themselves who emphasized the Javanese traditional values as both distinct from European values, but tied with the values of Christ. In this way Catholicism in Indonesia reminds one of Catholicism in Latin America, where indigenous and African traditions have blended with the religion “brought” from Europe but whose many spiritual tenets, according to many Javanese, were already, and always, present in Java.
I will try to revisit this topic and perhaps change my mind about some of the above when I have more “waktu kosong” (free time, literally: empty time) to think about this topic.
More photos may be seen here: