Batavia – Gereja Sion (The Portuguese Church)

Detail from this 1780 map of Batavia shows a Church labelled Jassen Kerk (top left) outside the walls of Batavia.

The Gereja Sion, built around 1693, is the oldest building in Jakarta that is still used for its original purpose and the Church’s massive columns and walls have allowed it to stand for over three hundred years. The site of the original church was built outside the walls of Batavia for the so-called black Portuguese. These Portuguese mestizos who were a class of  prisoners of war and indentured labourers, who also happened to be Catholic, and were captured after the VOC victories at Malacca and Galle then brought to Batavia. Later known as the Mardijkers after they were given their freedom in 1661 and granted land at Kampung Tugu in North Jakarta.

On Christmas Day I decide to attend the morning service at Jakarta’s oldest standing church, the Gereja Sion, which is also known as the ‘Portuguese Church’. Greeting the worshippers at the massive wooden doors are the elders of the church, who call me an Orang Belanda, meaning a Dutchman but now used in Indonesia as a generic term for a white person of any nationality. The worshippers were a mixture of the community but are predominantly Batak Christians from North Sumatra and Chinese Christians from Kota. 

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The Portuguese Church, J.W.Heydt, 1739
Gereja Sion over 314 years old

In the Church grounds is a very elaborate bronze grave marker of a former VOC Governor-General, Henrick Zwaardecroon

The gravestone of VOC Governor-General Henrick Zwaardecroon

The arched roof of the church is supported by six huge white columns rising from the basalt floor and surmounted by solid teak beams. Hanging from the ceiling are four huge brass chandeliers adorned with emblems of the Dutch East India Company. Around the walls are numerous Dutch memorial plaques and I quickly realise that it is a Dutch church.

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Interior of the ‘Portuguese Church’, J.C.Rappard, 1888
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Interior of the Church as it is today
‘Gereja Portugis’ J.C.Rappard 1888

The original Portuguese church burnt down in 1628 and the only reason it is known as the ‘Portuguese Church’ today is because of its location on the former site of a church built outside the main walls of Batavia for the Portuguese community. A wooden plaque in the presbytery describes the foundation of the current church:

The first stone of this Church was laid on 19th October 1693 by the youth Pieter van Hoorn and it has been built at the orders of the Honourable Government of these countries under the rule of the Church-wardens the honourable Joan van Hoorn, Director General and the Honourable Joan Lammertse Radde, Vice President of the aldermen of this town.

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About ianburnet

Author of the book, Spice Islands. Which tells the History, Romance and Adventure of the spice trade from the Moluccas in Eastern Indonesia over a period of 2000 years. Author of the book, East Indies.Which tells the history of the struggle between the Portuguese Crown, the Dutch East India Company and the English East India Company for supremacy in the Eastern Seas. Author of the book 'Archipelago - A Journey Across Indonesia'. Author of the book 'Where Australia Collides with Asia' Author of the book 'The Tasman Map'. Author of the book 'Eastern Voyages'.
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5 Responses to Batavia – Gereja Sion (The Portuguese Church)

  1. Randall Rutledge says:

    Fascinating history. I would love to attend a service there.

  2. ianburnet says:

    Sunday morning is perfect as there will less traffic in downtown Jakarta

    • Randy Rutledge says:

      True, but the roads around Fatahillah Square are torn up for the subway dig which has snarled traffic horribly.

  3. Sia Arnason says:

    Hello Ian, it has been many years since we met but it is always wonderful to get your stories about new “finds” in Indonesia. Please continue these updates – as an old Indonesia-hand I have strong feelings of love and interest for everything there, although it is unlikely Jon and I will get there again. Please keep the stories coming. Warm regards, Sia Arnason

  4. ianburnet says:

    Hello Sia and thanks for your comment. We have a mutual interest and love of Indonesia, its people and its history so I am very pleased to hear from you. There are so many fascinating stories about Indonesia and Indonesians that I will keep them coming, All the best, Ian

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