Catholic - Assumptionist Order
Located on the eastern slopes of Mount Zion
[#26 on the Old City map]

medium size image (52KB) - large image (102KB)

"Then seizing him [Jesus], they led him away and took him into the house of the high priest [Caiaphas]. Peter followed at a distance. . . .A servant girl . . . said, 'This man was with him.' But he denied it. 'Woman, I don't know him,' he said. A little later someone else saw him and said, 'You also are one of them.' 'Man, I am not!' Peter replied. About an hour later another asserted, 'Certainly this fellow was with him, for he is a Galilean.' Peter replied, 'Man, I don't know what you're talking about!'
Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed.
The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: 'Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.' And he went outside and wept bitterly."

LUKE 22: 54-62

Few structures combine the ancient with the new as successfully as the dazzling Church of St. Peter on the eastern slopes of Mount Zion. Erected in 1931 to commemorate Peter's triple rejection of Jesus and his subsequent remorse, the church is an amazing blend of contemporary lines, primitive art, 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.
Beneath the church are a series of carved-out chambers from the Second Temple period. Since Catholic tradition positions the palace of Caiaphas on this very site, it logically follows that Jesus may have been imprisoned in one of these very same underground crypts.
A Byzantine shrine dedicated to Peter's repentance was erected on this spot in the middle of the fifth century and was later destroyed by Moslem invaders. The chapel was rebuilt by the Crusaders and given a new name: St. Peter's in Gallicantu. Galli-cantu means cock-crow in Latin and today a golden rooster protrudes prominently from the sanctuary roof.
At least one tour guide believes that the grotto in which Jesus was held is missing a pillar. It is to this column that Jesus was tied, he reports, and notes that when the Crusaders rebuilt the Byzantine shrine they removed the sacred pillar.
Pilgrims to the church will notice that much of the writing is in French. St. Peter's belongs to the Assumptionist Fathers, which is a French order established in 1887 and named for Mary's Assumption to heaven. The Order has its headquarters in Jerusalem's monumental Notre Dame de France complex, built in 1889.
On your way into the Church of St. Peter, look for a strange mosaic "window" which lets in no light: it is located on an outside wall as you approach the entrance to the upper sanctuary. Walk through wrought iron doors covered with bas reliefs which have a biblical motif. The display on your right includes two Byzantine-era mosaics found during excavations, probably part of the floor in the fifth-century Byzantine shrine.

Saint Peter's is an amazing blend of contemporary art and antiquity.

medium size image (84KB) - large image (176KB)

The extraordinary church interior is a giant, multi-colored mosaic portraying New Testament figures. Most of the colors are joyous and lively; they also fade into one another and offer subtle gradients of each shade. Perhaps the most striking feature of this unusual church is the ceiling. It is dominated by a huge cross-shaped window designed in a radiant variety of colors.
In other Jerusalem sanctuaries I have seen the Via Dolorosa depicted by either bas reliefs, small sculptures, or paintings. Here the 14 Stations are marked only with a simple cross. The mosaic illustrations, too, are less sophisticated than those in many other churches. Set within the ultra modern lines of the chapel, they look intriguingly ancient.
Three nearly life-size mosaic pictures cover the back and two side walls of the church. Facing the entrance is an illustration of a bound Jesus being questioned at Caiaphas' palace; on the right Jesus and the disciples are shown dining at the Last Supper. In the left mosaic Peter, considered the first Pope, is pictured in ancient papal dress.
Although in the beginning Peter sometimes argued with Jesus, after the Crucifixion he became the foremost apostle and greatest miracle worker of the Christian Church. One of the venues in which he preached was Rome. In the year 64, homicidal Emperor Nero played his fiddle while the city of Rome burned to a crisp before his very eyes. At the time there was talk that the mad emperor had started the fire and, perhaps to divert suspicion from himself, Nero blamed the Christians. Peter was martyred during the persecutions that followed. According to tradition, Peter asked to be crucified upside down so that he would not die in the same manner as Jesus.
Beneath the upper church is an unusually light and airy glass-enclosed chapel which incorporates stone from ancient grottos inside its walls. Visitors can look down a hole in the center of the sanctuary to see caves that may have been part of the Byzantine shrine. Their walls are engraved with crosses left there by fifth-century Christians.
On an even lower level there is easy access to a succession of caves from the Second Temple period. And finally, you exit into an excavated yard which includes a stone trail probably dating back to that same era. Many Christians believe that Jesus followed this path down to Gethsemane on Holy Thursday night.

Visiting hours: Monday-Saturday 8:30-12:00; 14:00-17:00 (Sunday closed)
Entrance fee

Return to "Beyond the Walls: Churches of Jerusalem"