Approximately 20 minutes away from the pearly sands of Trikora Beach, lies a serene pilgrimage spot known as the Grotto Santa Maria. From the entrance, the trail starts with the ’14 Stations of the Cross’, depicting the story of Jesus Christ’s crucifixion in limestone statues, leads up to a beautifully preserved statue of Virgin Mary in a cave, beside a quaint little chapel. The chapel comes to life on Sundays as devotees gather with song and prayer during mass sessions.
The tranquil grounds is a reminder of Bintan’s past as a migrant settlement with the existence of a small Catholic community in Trikora dating back to the 1960’s. A steady flow of people were transiting through the area to work in the construction industry or palm oil plantations in Malaysia. They prayed for protection in a temporary chapel under a wooden shed along Trikora Beach Point 3 before embarking on the dangerous sea journey to Southern Johor.
The place of worship moved to its permanent home in the Telok Dalam hillside in the 1970’s. A charismatic French priest, Father Henri Jourdain, also known as Père Henri, moved to Bintan in 1977 and contributed his long term vision to the site. Known to the locals as Pastor Henri, he led the Tanjung Pinang parish which also included devotees from surrounding islands.
Keeping to the Indonesian tradition of seeking enlightenment in mountain caves, Père Henri found a large statue of the Virgin Mary in Java that was installed in a small pagoda-like pavilion and blessed by Bishop Hilarius. The installation of the statue fortified the Telok Dalam site as a place of pilgrimage and meditation for both, locals and tourists visiting the popular Trikora beaches.
The Virgin Mary statue displayed weighs around 250 kg. A larger grotto was built by Vietnamese refugees with donations from the Tanjung Pinang community and inaugurated in 2001. The construction of the elegant chapel and the 14 Stations of the Cross was sponsored by the Catholic community of Singapore and inaugurated in 2010.
Grotto Santa Maria is part of the Trail of Sea Gypsies Tour.