Church of St Peter
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The Church of Saint Peter (Aramaic: Knisset Mar Semaan Kefa, Turkish: Senpiyer Kilisesi, St. Peter's Cave Church, Cave-Church of St. Peter) near Antakya (Antioch), Turkey, is composed of a cave carved into the mountainside on Mount Starius with a depth of 13 m (42 ft.), a width of 9.5 m (31 ft.) and a height of 7 m (23 ft). This cave, which some believe was used by the very first Christians, is one of Christianity's oldest churches.
History of congregation and church building
It is believed by some that the founding of the church in Antioch can be traced to the Bible's Acts of the Apostles (11:25-27) where it is related that Barnabas travelled to Tarsus to bring Paul the Apostle there. They worked for one year with the nascent Christian community, and there the converts were called Christians for the first time in history. Christian tradition considers Peter, the first Apostle, as the founder of the church of Antioch, and the first priest of the Christian population that was established there; the Church of St. Peter is regarded by tradition as on the spot where he first preached the Gospel in Antioch.
The oldest surviving parts of the church building date from at least the 4th or 5th century. These include some pieces of floor mosaics, and traces of frescoes on the right side of the altar. It is thought that the tunnel inside which opens to the mountain side served the Christians to evacuate the church in case of sudden raids and attacks. Water that seeps from the nearby rocks was gathered inside for drinking purposes, and was also used for baptisms. The collection of water, which visitors drank and collected to give to those who were ill (with the belief that it was healing and curative), has lessened as a result of recent earthquakes.
Crusaders of the First Crusade who captured Antakya in 1098 lengthened the church by a few metres and connected it with two arches to the facade, which they constructed. This facade was rebuilt in 1863 by the Capuchin Friars who restored the church on the orders of Pope Pius IX. French Emperor Napoleon III also contributed to the restoration. The remains on the left hand side of the church entrance belong to colonnades that formerly stood in front of the church facade.
On top of the stone altar located in the middle of the church is a stonework platform that was placed there in memory of the Saint Peter's Platform Holiday which was celebrated every 21 February in Antakya. The marble statue of Saint Peter on top of the altar was placed there in 1932.
The garden of the church has been used as a cemetery for hundreds of years. Graves and burials have also been located inside the church, especially around the altar. The church is one of the three final resting places of Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, after his death on the Third Crusade.
Although it is a museum today, it is possible to perform worship services inside the church under the inspection of the Museum Management by obtaining a permit from the Office of the Provincial Governor.
- Clyde E. Fant, Mitchell Glenn Reddish, A guide to biblical sites in Greece and Turkey (Oxford University Press US, 2003), pg. 149
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