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Written by Stephen Langfur
 
  
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Peter in Gallicantu


St. Peter in Gallicantu: The House of Caiaphas?

13112002063620.jpgIn the 4th century AD, Christians were first allowed to build churches. In some cases they may have had a continuous tradition about a particular place, and then we should expect to find the ruins of a 4th-century church. There were such, for example, at Capernaum, Tabgha, Kursi, Bethlehem, Mamre, on the Mt. of Olives and in Jerusalem. Where the ruins do not go back that far, their absence may indicate that in the obscure centuries, the 1st through the 4th, Christians had no strong tradition connecting an event to the place.

At St. Peter in Gallicantu on Mt. Zion, there are 1st-century ruins, but Christians did not build a church here till the 6th. The first literary reference stems from an 8th-century monk (a later Epiphanius): "To the right, outside the city and near the wall, is a church, where Peter, when he went out, bitterly wept."

Nevertheless, there are three good reasons to come here:

1. Whether or not this was the site of Caiaphas' house, the place certainly helps one to get the feeling of what it must have been like to be imprisoned overnight. Beneath the church are two intriguing chambers hewn into bedrock. The larger one may have been a storeroom: some of the holes in the stones could have been for hanging sacks of grain. Yet they could also have been for chaining prisoners.

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On the south side of this room is a narrow aisle with a single step, on which a guard could stand to look through a small window into a deeper chamber, where a prisoner might be kept. Today we enter this deeper chamber through a recent breach. Standing in it and looking up (as in the photo, right), we see two openings, above which is a divided staircase. No doubt this staircase reached the bottom of the chamber at a time when the floor was higher. Perhaps this was a Jewish ritual bath. It could have been deepened to form a high-security cell. A hole directly above resembles the opening of a cistern. In memory of the night he spent under arrest, we may here read Psalm 88.

2. Outside the church, a few yards to the north, is an ancient stepped street. It may have been here at the time of Jesus' trial.

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3. Just below the parking lot is a platform: it is the best place to study the original Jerusalem from the west. The Egyptian Execration Texts and the Amarna letters  show that the city was important even before David made it his capital. From our present vantage point we can understand why. On the one hand, it's attached to the southern edge of the sole plateau on the central range (the Benjamin Plateau), giving it good agricultural land as well as access to major roads.

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Yet several cities also enjoyed the Benjamin plateau: Gibeon, Gibeah, Rama, Mizpeh, Beeroth, Bethel. What distinguished Jerusalem from these competitors was the depth of its defending valleys, which we can appreciate from here. We can find the meeting point of the Kidron (once 60 feet deeper) with the Hinnom. The western valley of David's city (later called the Tyropoeon or "Cheesemakers'") is harder to make out, because much of it has filled with garbage through the millennia. 

At the junction of valleys is a Greek Orthodox monastery (1874) dedicated to an Egyptian hermit, St. Onuphrius, who lived in a cave nearby. Onuphrius went naked, yet he was able to preserve his modesty thanks to a long and ample beard. (One may see a Crusader depiction on a column in Bethlehem's Church of the Nativity.)  West of Onuphrius' monastery is a charnel house of the Hospitalers, who conducted an average of 50 burials daily. They built it over ancient graves. (Murphy-O'Connor , p. 119). Eusebius identified this area as Potter's Field, where Judas hung himself (Acts 1: 18-19). Thus it gained the name of Akeldama, the "field of blood."

Hours for the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu: 08:30-17:00, closed Sundays. Wear modest dress .

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