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Jakarta’s neo-gothic Roman Catholic Cathedral stands on the north corner of Lapangan Banteng, or Banteng Square, which, during the Dutch colonial period was called Waterlooplein, or Waterloo Square in Central Jakarta. Today, the Cathedral stands right across Jakarta’s largest mosque, the Istiqlal Mosque.
Their proximity is not a coincidence. Indonesia’s first president, Soekarno, chose the site for the mosque on purpose, to symbolize the nation’s philosophy of unity in diversity, where all religions could co-exist in peace and harmony.
Today, both establishments continue to cooperate with one another, especially to accommodate the parking of cars during religious festivals. The parking lot of the mosque is used by the church congregation during Easter and Christmas midnight mass, and vice versa, during Eid prayers, parking is extended to the Cathedral’s parking lot.
Facing the church’s parking area is the statue of the Holy Heart of Jesus.
This neo-gothic church was consecrated in 1901 having been rebuilt at the same location where previously stood the old cathedral, which was built in 1829 but collapsed in 1890.
As the Dutch were Protestants and prevented the spread of the Catholic faith in the East Indies, the church was left in ruins. It was not until Napoleon Bonaparte conquered Europe, and placed his brother Lodewijk (Louis Napoleon) on the Dutch throne that Catholicism was again allowed to be spread in the archipelago.
Jakarta’s Cathedral is dedicated to the Virgin Mary and is officially named Gereja Santa Maria Pelindung Diangkat ke Surga, meaning the Church of Our Lady of Assumption. A statue of Our Lady Mary stands at the front portal, facing West, with a sentence above the portal saying: “Beatam Me Dicentes omnes Generationes”, meaning: All generations shall call me blessed.
Although from its appearance the church seems to be made of stone, as are neo-gothic churches in Europe, in fact, the cathedral is constructed of thick red brick that is covered with plaster and applied with patterns to mimic natural stone construction.
The thick walls are made to support the teak beams to form the roof. The three spires are made from iron frame. These materials were used instead of stone because they are relatively lighter than stone masonry
Above the church are three wrought iron spires, the two highest are 60 meters tall, while the central spire is 45 meters.
Entering the church one sees that the cathedral is designed to form a cross. Its central aisle is 60 meters long and in front of the altars the aisle stretches 10 meters plus 5 meters to each side.
There are three altars. The left is the Altar of Saint Mary which was completed in 1915, and on the right is the Altar of Saint Joseph, completed in 1922. The splendid and most important central altar and tabernacle and the gold cross are said to have been made in the Netherlands in the 19th century and installed here in 1956.
Around the walls of the church are paintings of the Stations of the Cross, where before every Easter, congregations stop to meditate the sufferings of Jesus Christ to his crucifixion until his resurrection from the dead.
On the south side is the statue of Pieta, showing Mother Mary carrrying Jesus Christ on her lap after his crucifixion
On central right is a raised decorated pulpit with a shell shaped construction overhead for acoustics.
The building itself has two floors. The upper floor used to be for the choir, but as the building has aged and there are concerns that the floor will not hold many people, the upper floor has now been converted into a museum, which holds relics for rituals during the days of the Dutch East Indies, as also the history of the spread of Catholicism in Indonesia.
The Cathedral is still actively used to this day. During Easter and Christmas, when congregations overflow, tents are pitched on the parking lot to allow the hundreds to pray, by following mass through TV monitors.