This magnificent Roman Catholic church is located on the eastern side of Mount Zion, alongside the Old City of Jerusalem. The church’s unusual name comes from the Latin word “Galli-cantu” which means cock’s crow. It commemorates the events told in all the Gospels when Peter denies Jesus three times “before the cock crows twice”; repents and reconciles with Christ after his resurrection. Peter’s denial of Christ happened outside the home of High Priest Caiaphas, and the church is built where the house once stood. Jesus was brought to the house of the Jewish High Priest after his arrest and imprisoned overnight. Today the church is run by the Assumptionist Fathers, a French Christian order named for Mary’s assumption to heaven.
St Peter and the Cock’s Crow in the Bible
The story of Peter’s denial of Christ is told in Mark 14:26-72; Luke 27:34-61 and Acts 5:19-42. On the eve of Jesus’ arrest he dined with his disciples and Peter announced that he would not be with them. Jesus then predicted that Peter would deny knowing Jesus three times that night before the cock crowed twice at dawn.
Peter followed when Jesus was arrested and taken to the High Priest’s house where the chief priests and elders were gathered. Peter sat warming himself by a fire with the servants as the High Priest and council sought witness against Jesus but found none. A maid saw Peter and said to him, you were one of Jesus’ followers but Peter denied this saying “I know not, neither understand I what thou sayest.” He walked into the courtyard and heard the cock crow.
The second denial was when a maid saw Peter and started to say to those nearby that Peter was one of those with Jesus and again Peter denied this.
A little later Peter denied knowing Jesus for a third time when those standing nearby said to him, surely you are one of them as you are a Galilean. Peter began swearing and said he did not know the man they speak of. Then the cock crowed for the second time and Peter remembered Jesus’ words and began to weep.
History of St. Peter in Gallicantu Church
Although there is an alternative site placing the High Priest’s house at the Armenian Orthodox Church of the House of Caiaphas on Mount Zion pilgrims wrote of this site as early as 333AD.
During the Byzantine era in 457AD a shrine was erected on this site dedicated to Peter’s repentance. It was damaged in the Samaritan Revolt of 529AD and destroyed by Persians in 614AD then rebuilt in 628AD.
In 1010 Al-Hakim bi-Amr Allah, the Fatimid caliph also known as the Mad Caliph decided to tighten control over religious freedom in Jerusalem. He ordered the destruction of churches, religious artifacts and synagogues in Jerusalem. During the demolition the shrine dedicated to St Peter’s repentance on the site of Caiaphas’ Palace home was destroyed.
In 1102 the Crusaders rebuilt the shrine and gave it its present name.
Jerusalem was taken by Saladin, Sultan of Egypt in 1187 marking the end of the Crusader’s first Kingdom of Jerusalem and the shrine was once again destroyed. Only two years later Richard the Lion Heart led a new Crusade to the Holy Land and the shrine was rebuilt only to be destroyed by the Turks in 1219. Since then the site was left in ruins until being rebuilt in 1931.
The church was rebuilt by the Assumption Fathers on the site believed to have been the House of the Priest Caiaphas, one of the Holy Temple’s High Priests. It was built over the ruins of the earlier Byzantine shrine.
The Church of Peter in Gallicantu
The church is built on a steep hillside on the eastern slope of Mt. Zion so that visitors have to approach the church via a parking lot located above the church. The slope below the church drops down to the Kidron Valley and Old City. Visitors enter the church via a courtyard where there is a statue depicting Peter’s denial of Jesus. There are also Byzantine era mosaics excavated in the courtyard. These mosaics were probably part of the original Byzantine shrine. As you approach the entrance you will see wrought iron doors beautifully decorated with bas reliefs depicting Jesus and his disciples in a scene from Luke 22:34 where Peter is told that he will deny Jesus. The church roof has a magnificent large central dome with a smaller domed tower on one corner. A golden rooster tops a black cross on the sanctuary roof.
The church has four levels – an upper church, middle church, guard room and dungeon caves. Inside the Upper Church there is a colorful mosaic depicting New Testament Biblical figures. Three large mosaics cover the walls of the church. You can see the scene of Jesus and his disciples dining at the Last Super; Jesus being questioned at the Caiaphas Palace following his arrest and Peter in papal dress as he is considered the first Pope. The ceiling has a large cross-shaped stained glass window and the Stations of the Cross are depicted on the walls.
In the Middle Church there are icons above the altar depicting scenes from Peter’s story including his reconciliation with Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after Christ’s resurrection.
The Lower Church is thought to have been a Second Temple era guardroom. In the guardroom there are places on the rock walls which may have been for attaching prisoners’ chains during flogging. Carved into the rock floor are bowl-type indentations which may have held salt to rub into the prisoners’ wounds.
A little lower down is the fourth level where there are grottos once used as dungeon prison cells hewn into the rock. On the walls of the grottos there are crosses carved into the stone by 5th century pilgrims. As this is thought to have been the site of the Caiaphas’ Palace Jesus may have been held in one of these caves after his arrest. The grottos are also called Christ’s Prison. At the time prisoners would have been lowered into the prison cell caves through a narrow opening. On the exterior southern wall of the church you can see an engraving depicting Jesus attached to a rope harness which would have been used to lower the prisoners into the cells. Alternatively the caves could have been used as Roman era homes, water cisterns, baths or storage areas.
The art work in the church includes both modern and historic pieces you will also notice that many of the inscriptions in the church are in French as the Asumptionist Fathers are a French order. On the north side of the church you can see a model of the city as it would have looked during the Byzantine era when the original shrine was built on this site. On the northern side of the church is a Biblical-era ancient stepped street leading down towards Kidron Valley. The staircase could have been the path Jesus followed to Gethsemane on the night of his arrest.
On the first Sunday of every month the church is closed to visitors. The church is open Monday to Saturday 8:30am-12 noon and 2pm-5pm and closed to visitors on Sundays. For more information about the church of Peter in Gallicantu call 972 2 6731739.