Indonesia is home to the world’s largest Muslim population, with those professing the Islamic faith numbered at over 200 million. While most of its Islamic heartlands lie in the more populous western provinces, the vast island republic’s small but burgeoning Christian population finds solace and greater political autonomy in the far-flung islands of the east.
Religious distribution in Indonesia. The colours indicate the area’s predominant religion.
(Credits: United Nations Development Programme Indonesia)
The Indonesian Government officially recognizes Christianity as 2 separate entities ~ Roman Catholicism and Protestantism. The former was introduced by the Portuguese (notable efforts were carried out by the renowned 16th-century Jesuit missionary, St. Francis Xavier in the Maluku Islands) while the latter arrived with the Dutch who later ruled the archipelago for three and a half centuries. As a result of being a former Dutch stronghold and an important Christian missionary centre during the colonial era, more than 70% of North Sulawesi’s inhabitants are Christian, rendering it the only Christian-predominant province out of Sulawesi’s 6 provinces. The Minahasans, the province’s largest ethnic group, built one of Indonesia’s largest Protestant churches, the Calvinist GMIM (abbreviation of Gereja Masehi Injili di Minahasa, the Christian Evangelical Church in Minahasa).
In North Sulawesi, you won’t feel like you’re in Muslim Indonesia, but rather somewhere in the Philippines albeit with a strong Protestant flavour. There are churches, plenty of churches wherever you go. For Malaysians, try replacing every surau/musolla/mosque you see on any stretch of road in the country with a church and that’s what you get, North Sulawesi. The province is further divided into 9 regencies, and the regency of Minahasa boasts one of the highest proportions of Christian adherents in the country (a staggering 97%!) as well as having the highest density of church buildings in Indonesia, with approximately one church for every 100m road. This is totally not an exaggeration. During our stay there, we saw churches being built right opposite each other, only to be separated by a road; churches built adjacent to each other; churches set apart by one or two homes, etc.
Being the provincial capital, Manado is home to some of the largest churches in the region. Most of the great churches are concentrated along the iconic Sam Ratulangi Street. Besides the Roman Catholic Church and the GMIM, various Christian denominations are also represented, including the Seventh Day Adventist, the Pentecostals, the Salvation Army, the Assemblies of God (known as Gereja Sidang-sidang Jemaat Allah in Indonesia), and so on. Priests and pastors of the empty churches in the West would have envied the vigorous religious scene in this part of the world: churches are jam-packed with believers during mass and church services, and every Christian home is adorned with crucifixes and biblical-themed paintings and artworks.
Roman Catholic Cathedral Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary (Gereja Hati Tersuci Maria), more commonly referred to as the Manado Cathedral
The cathedral’s main façade. I bet it’d look splendid once the scaffolding is removed.
A magnificent dome crowned the top of the cathedral, and its stone walls and stained glass windows gave it a distinctive European touch amidst a tropical setting
The bell tower up close
The nave leading to the apse
Lights streamed in through the windows and glass at the base of the dome
Biblical tales depicted on the window glass
A few steps away from the cathedral stood this large GMIM church
Catholic and Protestant churches side by side: Can you spot the Manado Cathedral too?
The church with its multiple spires, a common characteristic of GMIM churches
A night shot of this Pentecostal church was shown in the previous blog entry
Mikrolets whizzed past this contemporary GMIM church
Beautiful fairy-tale-like GMIM church in another part of Manado
Bringing back the nostalgia of the Dutch colonial era through its architecture
A castle? A palace? Nope, it’s a church! :D
Compilation of MANADO & NORTH SULAWESI TRIP 2009
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f l u f f e r p u f f | churches & cathedrals . indonesia . religions & spirituality . sulawesi . travels