Grotto of St. Peter in Antioch

Cave Church of St. Peter - St. Peter's Cave Church - Senpiyer Kilisesi - Knisset Mar Semaan Kefa


Useful Information

Location: Antakya, Hatay. Antakya-Reyhanli road nearby Neccar Mountain. (36.208864, 36.178764)
Open: APR to OCT Tue-Sun 10-17.
NOV to MAR Tue-Sun 8:30-17.
[2020]
Fee: Adults TRL 30, Children (0-7) free.
[2020]
Classification: SubterraneaCave Church
Light: LightIncandescent Electric Light System
Dimension: L=13 m, W=9.5 m, H=7 m.
Guided tours: self guided. V=250,000/a [2018]
Photography: allowed
Accessibility: no
Bibliography: Jørgen Christensen-Ernst (2002): The Cave Church of St. Peter in Antioch academia.edu
Address: St. Pierre Anıt Müzesi, Küçükdalyan Mahallesi, Antakya, Tel: +90-326-225-1568. E-mail:
As far as we know this information was accurate when it was published (see years in brackets), but may have changed since then.
Please check rates and details directly with the companies in question if you need more recent info.

History

44 St. Peter of Antioch came to the town and lived here for some years.
70 after the fall of Jerusalem Antioch became a center of Christianity.
4th cty floor mosaics and frescoes on the right side of the altar created.
1098 facade constructed and connected it with two arches to the cave wall.
1580 donated by the Muslims to the Christians.
1738 mentioned by anthropologist Richard Pococke as church of St. John.
1856 purchased by the French consul of Aleppo and donated to the Catholic Church.
1863 Capuchin Friars restore the church and rebuilt the facade on orders from Pope Pius IX.
1932 marble statue of Saint Peter placed above the altar.
1983 the church was declared a holy site by the Vatican.
01-MAR-2008 cave and church closed due to structural concerns after a collapse.
2011 added to UNESCO's Tentative World Heritage List.
2014 extensively restored.
FEB-2015 reopened.

Description

The old name of Antakya is Antioch, a name which is known by many people through St. Peter of Antioch. At this time Antioch was one of the largest cities in the world after Rome, Alexandria and Ephesus. It was the center of learning and science, religion and commerce in the Middle East. The holy man stayed here some time around the year 50 and used a cave to worship God. Here the Apostle preached for the first time and here he established the Christian community, introduced the word Christ. The place is today known as Cave Church of Saint Peter in Antioch or simply St. Peter's Church. Inside the cave a church was built, which is often called the first Christian church ever built by man.

St. Peter was one of twelve disciples of Jesus Christ. He was a fisherman before he followed him and his real name was Simon, but he was called Rock by Jesus himself. After the crucifixion of Jesus, St. Peter began to spread Christianity in Israel and then Antioch, which was exactly what Jesus had asked of him. He was the first founder of a Christian group after Jesus and may be called the first pope. St. Peter and his followers probably used this cave in Antioch to pray. However, there are stories that they went to the cave to hide from the Roman soldiers. That's obviously a legend, as the Roman Empire was polytheistic and allowed any religion. If Christs had any problems, it was either a result of aggressive mono-theistic proselytising or they were used as scape goats. Christs were only despised by the Jewish theocracy, the Romans were indifferent. However, when St. Peter stayed at Antioch he actually founded the Christian religion and it is impossible, even for the Romans, to persecute something which is not yet invented.

The oldest alteration at the church is a relief in the cliff face right of the cave with a veiled person who looks over the city and most probably dates back to the 2nd century BC. Some think is shows Charon, the ferryman who took the dead to Hades. However, it is probably the image of a member of the Seleucid dynasty who founded the city. The altar is bricked with a stone altar plate. According to legend, it was built during the visit of the Apostle Peter, which would make it the oldest part of the church. But it has not been possible to actually date it so far. Most likely the altar was bricked in 1931 and the much older plate placed on top. According to legend a spot of dripping water was collected and used for Baptism, but there are no remains.

The next oldest parts of the church are from the 4th or 5th century, some pieces of floor mosaics, and traces of frescoes on the right side of the altar. The current church was actually constructed by the crusaders of the First Crusade who captured Antakya in 1098. They just guessed that this was the place where the Apostle held the first christian services ever. It fit all their prejudices and legends. They enlarged the cave by several meters, built the facade and connected it with two arches to the cave wall. But there are also signs that they though the 4th century Church of Kusyân or Church of Cassianus in the old city was St Peters church. King Friedrich Barbarossa who died in 1189 was buried there, although many tourist guides declare that he was buried in the cave church.

The church was renovated in 1863 by Capuchin Friars on order from Pope Pius IX. They rebuilt the facade and made various changes to the church. The works were supported by French Emperor Napoleon III. A marble statue of Saint Peter was placed above the altar in a niche of the cave.

In 2008 huge parts of the cave collapsed. The possibility of further collapses caused a serious danger for the security of visitors, and resulted in the closure of the cave by the Turkish authorities. The cave church was finally recognized by the Turkish authorities and placed on the UNESCO Wolrd Heritage Tentavie List. As a result it was completely restored, the stability problems met and the cave finally reopened.