Church of the Week: The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, Jerusalem

The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu, on the slopes of Mount Zion in Jerusalem, is one of the most beautiful churches in the world, and certainly one of the most well-thought-out. Its name (Gallicantu is Latin for "cock's crow") and location mark Simon Peter's triple denial of Jesus on the night of his arrest and trial.

A Byzantine shrine dedicated to Peter's repentance was erected on this spot in 457 AD, but was destroyed by Muslim invaders in 1010. The chapel was rebuilt by Crusaders in 1102 and given its present name. After the fall of Jerusalem, the church again fell into ruin and was not rebuilt until this structure was erected in 1931. Today a golden rooster protrudes prominently from the sanctuary roof in honor of its biblical connection, and th spot is also believed to be the location of the High Priest Caiaphas's house (according to the Pilgrim of Bordeaux in his Itinerarium Burdigalense, "...going up from the Pool of Siloe to Mount Zion one would come across the House of the Priest Caiaphas").

The church is an amazing blend of contemporary lines, art, natural elements, and antiquity. All have been brilliantly fused together to create a superbly designed masterpiece which make it far more than an ordinary house of worship.

The building is entered through wrought iron doors covered with a bas reliefs in which Jesus appears (the figure in blue) pointing his finger--in relief--at Peter (the figure in red) AND at the observer standing outside the door, while his other hand holds up the number three, indicating the moment when Jesus told Peter he would deny the Lord three times.

Inside, the main chapel is just glorious, with an amazing mosaic of Jesus, bound, standing trial in the house of Caiaphas...very likely on or near this very spot.

On the lower level is another chapel, which encloses what may have been the courtyard of the high priest, and in one corner of that chapel a portion of bedrock has been left open to sight, because it is believed (and certainly possible) that this is the spot where Peter warmed himself by the fire...and denied his Lord, an incident recorded in Mark 14:66-72, and depicted in a sculpture nearby:

On a still-lower level is a hollow in the rock foundations of the church, which may well be the prison in which Jesus was confined on the night of his arrest and trial.

The hole in the roof may have been the only entrance and exit in Jesus' day, in which case he would have been lowered and lifted to and from the place with ropes--a possibility which is portrayed in one of the mosaics on the church's exterior (below):

On the north side of the church is an ancient staircase, from the Herodian era, that leads to and from the Kidron Valley:

It was very likely a well-traveled passage from the upper city to the lower city during the time of Jesus, and thus is almost certainly the path Jesus and his disciples took on their way to Gethsemane, and on the way back to the city after his arrest. Both scenes are depicted in sculptured art plaques flanking the steps:

The richness of this site to the believer and Bible student just boggles the mind. Here, the high priest lived. Here, Jesus and his disciples walked to the Mount of Olives. Here, Jesus was brought back to the city after his betrayal and arrest. Here, Jesus faced his accusers. Here, he was imprisoned for part of a night. Here, Peter denied his Lord. Here, Peter himself, along with John, was later imprisoned (Acts 5:19-42). The contemplative Christian could spend a full day here, reading and pondering the Passion of our Lord.

The lovely Robin and I have visited this church four times so far, most recently in January 2010.

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