Sun, 13 Jul 2003

'Blenduk' church in Semarang celebrating its 250th year

Suherdjoko, The Jakarta Post, Semarang

Passing through some areas of Semarang, it is almost possible to think you are in an old suburb of Amsterdam, not the capital of Central Java.

Semarang is home to many buildings dating back to the heyday of the Dutch East Indies Company (VOC) in the 17th and 18th centuries. They are a throwback to another time, and progress has not been kind to them. Many onetime office buildings and banks in Semarang's Kota Lama (old city) are now dilapidated warehouses.

One of the exceptions is Immanuel Western Indonesia Protestant Church, also known as Immanuel Church or "Blenduk" church, after the Javanese word for an upside-down bowl in recognition of its dome.

The church was built in 1753, 75 years after the VOC extended its operation to Semarang in January 1678. Over the years, it was even a place to pray for the city's Catholic community when they did not have their own church.

Located at Jl. Letjen Suprapto 32, the church stands apart from other buildings in Kota Lama. While adjoining buildings are surrounded by high walls, with no space to appreciate their architectural riches, the church is set back slightly from the street for the better appreciation of its neoclassical architecture by passersby.

The church has a single facade vertically divided into three parts. The ground floor of the building is almost the same level as the street in front of it, built on a brick foundation.

The roof is dome-shaped and covered with a metal layer framed by teak rafters. The metal roofing was added to the structure in 1894, and there is a hole under the dome to allow the sun to filter in.

On the eastern, southern and western sides of the church, there is a Roman style portico with a saddle-shaped roof. The two towers on both sides create an imposing impression, beginning from a square base that gradually rounds off at the top. A small dome-shaped roof is perched at the top of each tower.

The cornice found around the building is in the form of horizontal lines. The sophistication and uniqueness of the building can be seen in the entrance door, which is a double door made of wood panels. The upper part of the door is arched like the church's bow-shaped windows.

There are two types of windows: double windows with krepyak window etchings and stained glass.

The pews consist of wooden chairs with seats of plaited rattan and a wooden pulpit in front. The old pipe organ has stood silent since it played it last tune in 1975.

The church has a spacious yard on the right side where several leafy trees grow and which are used as a parking space for the congregation on Sunday.

The church has been renovated several times. When it was built in 1753, it took the shape of a Javanese stilt house, illustrated on a map of the city circa 1756.

In 1787, the church's architecture was changed, and seven years later more renovations were done. In 1894, the church was rebuilt by H.P.A. de Wilde and W. Westmas and that style remains to this day. A plaque dedicated to de Wilde and Westmas can be found at the back of the pulpit.

For the 250th anniversary, more renovations are underway, especially for the pews and walls.

"I cannot tell you how much money we have spent for this restoration, which began in 2002. The restoration work is still going on. The park beside the church has been cleaned up. We really want to preserve this old building," Franky Pattynama, who is responsible for the restoration project, told The Jakarta Post.

Many of the 300 active parishioners have contributed to the renovation fund, but their one dream is to hear hymns played on the organ.

"The organ repair costs are quite expensive and it cannot be done here. We need about Rp 200 million for this," said Jansen Tumengkol, a member of the church board.