I Spent Christmas at One of Java's Oldest Churches, Where Jesus Looks Like a Hindu God

Christianity mixes with Javanese architecture and Hindu imagery at Java's Colonial-era Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ Church.

by Adi Renaldi
25 December 2016, 2:11pm

Jesus Christ took on a decidedly Javanese flavor when a wealthy Dutch family commissioned the construction of the Sacred Heart of Jesus Christ Church in Batul, about 20 kilometers south of Yogyakarta. The church was built in the style of a Hindu temple (it was originally called Candi Hati Kudus Yesus) with some European and Javanese architectural styles thrown in the mix. 

One wall is covered in a relief of Jesus carrying his cross on the way to his crucifixion. But instead of traditional clothes, most of those pictured are dressed like Hindu monks. A statue of Jesus himself, dressed like a Hindu god, is located in a small Javanese alter. 

"This architecture is probably the true acculturation between Catholicism and Javanese culture," Sri Bandono, a member of the liturgy team, told me. "The Schmutzer family built the temple in 1927 after their sugar company survived the monetary crisis. It's how they showed their gratitude to God." 

The night of Christmas Eve about 2,000 people showed up for mass. The congregation kneeled in front of the Javanese Jesus as the sounds of traditional gamelan filled the church. It was a festive mix of Indonesian and foreign culture—a testament to the nation's ability to adapt and absorb ideas and beliefs to create a vibrant, and tolerant, country.