Pohsarang, a sacred place for Catholics
By Tarko Sudiarno
KEDIRI, East Java (JP): Pohsarang is a small remote village on the slope of Mount Klothok, East Java, which is seldom mentioned in guidebooks. It is becoming increasingly popular among local Catholics as a sacred place.
On the eve of every Friday legi (a day which comes once a month on the Javanese calendar), thousands of Catholics flock to Pohsarang Church. They gather there on Thursday evening so they can avoid the heavy traffic on the road leading to the church.
The road winds steadily upward for three kilometers, and it will become crowded with cars before dark comes.
There Catholics will jointly recite the Holy Rosary prayer, which is followed by a holy mass called Misa Tirakatan (i.e., doing something ascetic, such as fasting) at a grotto which the Virgin Mary (Gua Maria) stands in.
Beside the altar on which the holy mass is celebrated, there is a tank of holy water, obtained from a local well. Visitors wishing to use holy water for their prayers can easily get it from the taps available within the complex.
The water is potable and is believed to be sterile.
"We have placed a special open tank here for the water, which is just like bottled Aqua and is safe to drink," said Bernard, one of those involved in the construction.
The grotto with Mary standing in it is in this small village. The grotto resembles the same Mary's Grotto in Lourdes, France. This particular place of pilgrimage has the same shape and model to the one in Lourdes. The hill and the grotto and particularly the statue of the Virgin Mary are extraordinarily big compared to the Gua Maria of Sendang Sono in Yogyakarta.
The Pohsarang grotto is believed to be one of the largest in Asia.
This building, located five kilometers west of Kediri was blessed by Monsignor (Mgr.) J. Hadiwikarta, Pr., the Bishop of Surabaya, in May 1999.
Although the grotto has not been properly furnished, it has been busy since it was officially opened for the pilgrimage last year, especially in May when Catholics took part in the Tirakatan midnight holy mass. Last May, an estimated 7,000 people attended the mass.
For the Way of the Cross prayer, a special place has been built, complete with all the 14 statues of the Way of the Cross depicting the misery of Jesus Christ when he carried the wooden cross while climbing Golgotha hill.
Each of the statues is almost the size of a man. They were made to resemble the statues of the Way of the Cross in the grotto in Lourdes, France.
Pohsarang is part of the history of the early propagation of Catholicism in East Java. In the 1930s, several citizens of Pohsarang began to learn about Catholicism from some priests from the missionary congregation. In 1936, a Catholic church was built there.
It took several years to build Pohsarang Church, which is unique in its shape. The architecture is a combination of Javanese and Hindu tradition. The Majapahit architecture is evident in the church's entrance gate, bell tower and interior.
The statues belonging to the church, like those of Jesus and the Virgin Mary, have adopted the model and shapes of Javanese and Hindu statues found in some temples. The faces of Jesus and Mary were carved on the temple stones in a typical Javanese motif so that they do not look European, such as the depictions we find in many churches in Indonesia. They look like a typical Javanese man and woman.
The roof resembles the shape of Noah's ark. The roof has been renovated four times, with the last time in 1999 when a new steel frame was installed and the tiles were replaced.
The architect who built Pohsarang Church in 1936 was Maclain Pont, a Dutchman who had done research on the remains of the Majapahit Palace. His love for the Javanese culture had led him to build a church which had Javanese architecture.