St Peter in Gallicantu

Thursday 19th June 2014

This afternoon I also visited St Peter in Gallicantu. The latter word means “cockcrow”. This church is named after the following event which occurred the night before Jesus was executed, as reported in Matthew 27: 31-35, 69-75.

Peter’s Denial Foretold

31 Then Jesus said to them, “You will all become deserters because of me this night; for it is written,

‘I will strike the shepherd,
and the sheep of the flock will be scattered.’

32 But after I am raised up, I will go ahead of you to Galilee.” 33 Peter said to him, “Though all become deserters because of you, I will never desert you.” 34 Jesus said to him, “Truly I tell you, this very night, before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” 35 Peter said to him, “Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.” And so said all the disciples….

[Then, after the account of the arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane in the Kedron Valley]

Peter’s Denial of Jesus

69 Now Peter was sitting outside in the courtyard. A servant-girl came to him and said, “You also were with Jesus the Galilean.” 70 But he denied it before all of them, saying, “I do not know what you are talking about.” 71 When he went out to the porch, another servant-girl saw him, and she said to the bystanders, “This man was with Jesus of Nazareth.”[h] 72 Again he denied it with an oath, “I do not know the man.” 73 After a little while the bystanders came up and said to Peter, “Certainly you are also one of them, for your accent betrays you.” 74 Then he began to curse, and he swore an oath, “I do not know the man!” At that moment the cock crowed. 75 Then Peter remembered what Jesus had said: “Before the cock crows, you will deny me three times.” And he went out and wept bitterly.

The Church nestles about two thirds of the way up on the eastern slope of Mount Zion. It is in the area that is said to have been the house of Caiaphas and some of the other elites of Jerusalem society at the time of Jesus.

St. Peter in Gallicantu

St. Peter in Gallicantu

The church is easily identified by the cock/rooster on the vane of the cross on the dome.
Figure of a cock/rooster on the top of the cross above the dome of the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Figure of a cock/rooster on the top of the cross above the dome of the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Steps leading up to Caiaphas' house.

Steps leading up to Caiaphas’ house.

These steps date from the 1st century. It is quite likely that after his arrest in the Kedron Valley below, these are the actual steps up which Jesus would have been led to Caiaphas’ house.

The bronze entrance doors depict the prediction of Peter’s betrayal.

Bronze doors of the entrance to St Peter in Gallicantu

Bronze doors of the entrance to St Peter in Gallicantu

The Latin text at the bottom is the prediction from Lk 22:34, “the cock will not crow this day, until you have denied three times that you know me.”

The Latin text at the top is Psalm 123:8, “The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in …”

There are many beautiful mosaics in the church which depict the various scenes in this shameful episode. There are also statues and bas-reliefs in the grounds. However, by the time I arrived there it was late afternoon and the sun was setting on Mount Zion. Consequently, the church was in shade so there was insufficient light both inside and outside the church for good photography. However, I will provide some websites below with good images.

Underneath the main church was a middle level with caves/rooms dug out of the rocky hillside. These are possibly where Jesus was held in prison while waiting for his appearance before Caiaphas.

Cells/dungeons in the middle level under the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Cells/dungeons in the middle level under the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Statue of Servus Domini (The Servant of The Lord') in the middle level underneath the main church of St Peter in Gallicantu

Statue of Servus Domini (The Servant of The Lord’) in the middle level underneath the main church of St Peter in Gallicantu

There was a third level below the church for further dungeons. While Peter did fail the Lord on this particular occasion and repented in tears, he did not fail on a later occasion as reported in Acts 5:17ff.

The Apostles Are Persecuted

17 Then the high priest took action; he and all who were with him (that is, the sect of the Sadducees), being filled with jealousy, 18 arrested the apostles and put them in the public prison. 19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the prison doors, brought them out, and said, 20 “Go, stand in the temple and tell the people the whole message about this life.” 21 When they heard this, they entered the temple at daybreak and went on with their teaching.

When the high priest and those with him arrived, they called together the council and the whole body of the elders of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought. 22 But when the temple police went there, they did not find them in the prison; so they returned and reported, 23 “We found the prison securely locked and the guards standing at the doors, but when we opened them, we found no one inside.” 24 Now when the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these words, they were perplexed about them, wondering what might be going on. 25 Then someone arrived and announced, “Look, the men whom you put in prison are standing in the temple and teaching the people!” 26 Then the captain went with the temple police and brought them, but without violence, for they were afraid of being stoned by the people.

27 When they had brought them, they had them stand before the council. The high priest questioned them, 28 saying, “We gave you strict orders not to teach in this name, yet here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and you are determined to bring this man’s blood on us.” 29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than any human authority. 30 The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, whom you had killed by hanging him on a tree. 31 God exalted him at his right hand as Leader and Savior that he might give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins. 32 And we are witnesses to these things, and so is the Holy Spirit whom God has given to those who obey him.”

33 When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. 34 But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. 35 Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. 36 For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. 37 After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. 38 So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

They were convinced by him, 40 and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. 41 As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. 42 And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.

Just as Jesus had been held in cells/dungeons under Caiaphas’ house, it was likely that Peter and the other apostles were held in these same cells/dungeons (There is another account of imprisonment in Acts 12:12ff [see text below]). There are crosses and other images etched onto the walls of these dungeons which date from the Byzantine period. So it is evident that the early church did use this site to commemorate all who suffered and were persecuted in the first centuries. Accordingly, the Church of St Peter in Gallicantu also commemorates this other occasion in St Peter’s life when he did suffer for his Lord, along with all who suffered and were persecuted for Jesus’s sake in those formative years of the Church’s life.

For full details and a variety of images of St Peter in Gallicantu see:

Shalom, Peace, Salaam!!!

An account of Saint Peter being imprisoned by Caiaphas on another occasion as reported in Acts 12:12ff.

James Killed and Peter Imprisoned

12 About that time King Herod laid violent hands upon some who belonged to the church. 2 He had James, the brother of John, killed with the sword. 3 After he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded to arrest Peter also. (This was during the festival of Unleavened Bread.) 4 When he had seized him, he put him in prison and handed him over to four squads of soldiers to guard him, intending to bring him out to the people after the Passover. 5 While Peter was kept in prison, the church prayed fervently to God for him.

Peter Delivered from Prison

6 The very night before Herod was going to bring him out, Peter, bound with two chains, was sleeping between two soldiers, while guards in front of the door were keeping watch over the prison. 7 Suddenly an angel of the Lord appeared and a light shone in the cell. He tapped Peter on the side and woke him, saying, “Get up quickly.” And the chains fell off his wrists. 8 The angel said to him, “Fasten your belt and put on your sandals.” He did so. Then he said to him, “Wrap your cloak around you and follow me.” 9 Peter[a] went out and followed him; he did not realize that what was happening with the angel’s help was real; he thought he was seeing a vision. 10 After they had passed the first and the second guard, they came before the iron gate leading into the city. It opened for them of its own accord, and they went outside and walked along a lane, when suddenly the angel left him. 11 Then Peter came to himself and said, “Now I am sure that the Lord has sent his angel and rescued me from the hands of Herod and from all that the Jewish people were expecting.”

12 As soon as he realized this, he went to the house of Mary, the mother of John whose other name was Mark, where many had gathered and were praying. 13 When he knocked at the outer gate, a maid named Rhoda came to answer. 14 On recognizing Peter’s voice, she was so overjoyed that, instead of opening the gate, she ran in and announced that Peter was standing at the gate. 15 They said to her, “You are out of your mind!” But she insisted that it was so. They said, “It is his angel.” 16 Meanwhile Peter continued knocking; and when they opened the gate, they saw him and were amazed. 17 He motioned to them with his hand to be silent, and described for them how the Lord had brought him out of the prison. And he added, “Tell this to James and to the believers.”[b] Then he left and went to another place.

18 When morning came, there was no small commotion among the soldiers over what had become of Peter. 19 When Herod had searched for him and could not find him, he examined the guards and ordered them to be put to death. Then he went down from Judea to Caesarea and stayed there.


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