For those who travel to Yogyakarta, Solo or Semarang, the Cave of the Virgin Mary, or Gua Maria Kerep Ambarawa (GMKA for short) – is a meaningful destination for Catholics and has also become a point of interest for tourists of varying religions.
Established in 1954, the year declared by Pope John Paul II as the Year of Virgin Mary the Immaculate, the Cave is meant to increase faith and devotion in the Virgin Mother. Since its inauguration over half a century ago, Catholics from across the country have made and continue to make the pilgrimage to this sacred cave to give reverence to Mother Mary. Gua Maria Kerep is located in the district of Ambarawa, Semarang Regency, Central Java.
The GMKA is the third cave in this part of Java dedicated to Mother Mary, next to the Maria Cave at Sendangsono in Yogyakarta and the Maria Cave at Sriningsih in Klaten, Central Java.
Gua Maria Kerep Ambarawa, (GMKA,) or Gua Kerep, was built resembling the Cave of Maria in Lourdes, south of France. It covers an area of 5 hectares, and contains scenes marking key events in the Life of Jesus. These include The Sea of Galilee, The River Jordan, The Kana Banquet, Under the Fig Tree, The Way to the Cross, and finally, The Tomb of Jesus.
The Cave of Maria Kerep has undergone several renovations in order to include more complete facilities such as function rooms for meetings and spiritual retreats, a cave chapel which can hold up to 400 worshippers, and a prayer room large enough to accommodate up to 3,000 people.
Although easy to access, the cave is located a fair distance from the highway, lending to its serene atmosphere. Set to a backdrop of Mount Telomoyo, Mount Merbabu and Lake Rawa Pening, this sacred place of worship is also a refuge from everyday life and a place to surround yourself with nature and calm your spirit and thoughts.
Pilgrimages to the Maria cave occur in the second week of each month. During this time, the average number of visitors rises to about 8,000 people.
Ambarawa itself is a destination worth visiting. Here is the Railway Museum displaying grand old locomotives. Some 9 km from Ambarawa is the archaeological site of Gedung Songo, the nine temples built in the 8th century, then relax at the Tlogo plantation for a refreshing cup of coffee.
Hotel Nugraha Wisata is located over 800 meters above sea level, amidst scenic landscapes of mountains and lakes, offering relaxation and tranquility.
Address: Jalan Raya Bandungan, Sumowono, Ambarawa.
Aside from this, other hotels can be found in the neighboring city of Semarang.
Built as a place of worship, many Catholics come to this cave to pray, give thanks, or meditate in search of inner peace. Many come to pray to be cured from sickness, give thanks for requests fulfilled, and drink of the Holy Water to cure their disease.
For Catholics, there are three main stages through which the religious procession follows. The first is the Garden of Prayer, where pilgrims learn of the sacrifices that Jesus made. Next, the Way of the Cross, where The Passion of Christ can be more fully understood. Finally, a statue of Jesus, where worshippers should spend an hour in prayer and meditation.
Also in the compounds is the tomb of Mary Soelastri Soejadi Darmoseputro, founder of the WKRI, which is Wanita Katolik Republik Indonesia, or Catholic Women of Indonesia.
Cool air and picturesque landscapes, and quiet serenity, welcome all who come to the cave. For tourists, the panoramic view of rugged mountains, verdant rice fields, and shady trees will bring peace and refresh the mind. These idyllic surroundings also include camping grounds, fit to accommodate a thousand people. Three rooms are also available within the GMKA compounds for visitors that wish to stay the night.
Several souvenir stores are located around the area for a remembrance of your pilgrimage. Small food stalls can also be found, serving a variety of local delicacies.
The grounds are also often used as a backdrop for pre-wedding photo sessions, which of course need prior permission.
Gua Maria Kerep is located in Ambarawa, some 900 meters from the main road between Semarang and Magelang, not too far from Yogyakarta. Travel agents in Semarang, Solo or Yogyakarta can organize transport to Ambarawa via mini-bus, which will take 1 to 2 hours from Yogyakarta or 1 hour from Semarang. Pilgrims can walk from the Ambarawa terminal to the Maria Cave, although it is a pretty long walk.
From the main road you can take the 4 wheeled horse carriage called andong or delman, or get an ojek or motorbike ride.
Airports in Semarang, Solo or Yogyakarta serve Kuala Lumpur and Singapore internationally, and most major cities around Indonesia.