Jakarta Cathedral, Indonesia's most beautiful neo-Gothic temple
One visit that must always be included in a trip to Indonesia is Yakarta Cathedral, not because it is an exotic building but because it is a surprise to find such a Catholic temple in the centre of the country’s capital. It is located on the northern corner of Banteng Square so you will pass it sooner or later, as well as the grand Istiqlal Mosque just a few minutes away. This fact also tends to attract a lot of attention since, in such a large city, why build a mosque so close to the cathedral? According to some historians, this location is not accidental but was personally chosen by Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, to exemplify the conciliatory philosophy of the new government. Religious tolerance and the desire for harmonious coexistence, which is so difficult in any country in the world, were thus evident.
A fact that confirms this good relationship is that, during the respective multitudinous celebrations, parking spaces are made available so that the faithful can leave their vehicles to attend the rite. Therefore, the mosque’s car park is full when the Midnight Mass is held, and the Cathedral’s car park is full when the Eid prayers are said in the mosque.
History of the Cathedral
Jakarta Cathedral was consecrated in 1901, although there had been an earlier cathedral on the site built in 1829 which unfortunately collapsed in 1890. Part of the responsibility for letting the old cathedral fall down lay with the Dutch who, as Protestants, had no interest in the Catholic faith spreading in that part of the world.
When Napoleon Bonaparte put his brother Louis on the Dutch throne after conquering most of Europe, that monarchy did endeavour to spread the Catholic religion it professed throughout Indonesia.
This beautiful temple is dedicated to the Virgin Mary, of whom there is an image on the main door and underneath it you can read: ‘Beatam me dicent omnes generationes’, i.e. “All generations will call me blessed”.
Curiosities and facts
One of the most curious aspects of Jakarta Cathedral is that the image of sturdiness that stone provides in neo-Gothic temples here is fictitious because it is actually built with large red bricks that have been covered with plaster. After that layer a pattern has been applied to make it look like natural stone (do not tell anyone). What is original are the large teak beams that support the roof. An iron structure was used to build the unique towers of the Cathedral. If you look closely, you can see three wrought-iron spires towering between 45 and 60 metres above the church.
In addition to seeing it from the outside, you should take a look inside to see the cross-shaped floor plan with a central nave of 60 metres. At the back are the altars, the one on the left is dedicated to Saint Mary and was completed in 1915 and the one on the right honours Saint Joseph and was completed in 1922. The central altar with the golden cross, the most majestic one, was installed in 1956 and is said to have been brought directly from the Netherlands.
On the side walls there are the usual Stations of the Cross depicting Jesus Christ on the road to Calvary and his subsequent resurrection. There are many more details you might like, so take a leisurely tour inside. You can also climb to the top floor, where the choir used to be and which now houses a museum that keeps various relics and tells a little of the history of how Catholicism spread in Indonesia.
If you visit Jakarta during Holy Week or Christmas, you will be able to feel the fervour of the faithful, and how the cathedral is packed to the rafters.
Information for visitors
As stated earlier, Jakarta Cathedral is centrally located at the northern corner of Lapangan Banteng (Banteng Square), which was called Waterloo Square in Dutch times. Since admission is free all day long, you can stop by at any time on your way to the Monas (800 metres away) or the Grand Mosque (opposite). If you like photography, take a wide-angle lens with you because it is not easy to get a good perspective where you can see the whole picture.
Where to stay in Jakarta
On a trip to Indonesia, you deserve to stay at an establishment that matches the destination. How would you like to stay at The Orient Jakarta, a Royal Hideaway Hotel? This five-star hotel offers an unbeatable location on the central Sudirman Street, a beautiful interior design combining local culture with the avant-garde, spacious rooms with panoramic views of the city, etc. Without a doubt, sleeping in one of its 153 rooms and enjoying its facilities is a dream you can fulfil. Be sure to visit its three restaurants, take a dip in one of its swimming pools and relax in its spa. If you take care of yourself during your travels, you can also take advantage of its fitness area. It is an unforgettable hotel.
Frequently Asked Questions
When was Jakarta Cathedral built?
Jakarta Cathedral was consecrated in 1901, although it was built on the site of an earlier cathedral from 1829 that was demolished in 1890. During those years, the Dutch, being Protestant, had no interest in looking after Catholic property.
Can I visit Jakarta Cathedral?
Yes, you can visit Jakarta Cathedral. Like most of the world's Christian churches, it is open to the public and admission is free. Go inside to admire the altars and do not forget to go upstairs to see the museum.
What is the architectural style of Jakarta Cathedral?
Jakarta Cathedral is considered to be neo-Gothic style and was consecrated in 1901. It is a very peculiar temple as it imitates stone but is actually made of bricks covered with plaster that have a pattern applied to them. Be sure to go inside.