Church of the Week: Peter's House

This week's church has got to be one of the most unusual and unique in all Christendom.

When the lovely Robin and I first journeyed to Israel in 1987, we were hugely interested to learn that the site of Peter's house in Capernaum is one of the most well-attested Christian sites in the Holy Land. Above is how it looked in 1987; the room contained within the central octagonal shrine appears to have been part of an insula (a complex of small single-story residential rooms and courtyards) that toward the end of the first century was put to public use, possibly as a domus ecclesia, a private house used as a church. The plastered walls of the enshrined room were found to be scratched with graffiti in Aramaic, Greek, Syriac and Latin, containing the words "Jesus", "Lord", "Christ" and "Peter".

When we made our second trip to the site in 2001, we were amazed (and a little disoriented at first) to find that the Franciscans (who have owned the place since the 19th century) had built an unusually-shaped modern church over the site of St. Peter’s house. Hexagonal in shape and rather spaceship-like in appearance, it is elevated on pillars and has a glass floor, so that visitors can still see the original church below.

I was really disappointed at first. I much prefer archaeological sites to the Roman Catholic and Orthodox habit of plopping a church down on every meaningful piece of land they can find....BUT, you gotta admit, them Catholics sure know how to build churches! Despite the intrusive exterior, the church is beautiful inside...and does preserve the pilgrim's ability to see the actual house of Peter through the glass floor.


  1. Well - sorry about that! But at least the original site was preserved - and if something had to be built over it, a Church beats a museum - or an office block - any day!

  2. You're right, my friend. And it also has the advantage, I'm thinking, of protecting the site from erosion and deterioration from sun, wind, rain, etc.