Saint Peter in Gallicantu
Was Jesus Imprisoned in This Dungeon?
Location – South of the parking lot of Mount Zion
Map Coordinates - 31.771321, 35.232022
Merged Gospels story - 270
This is the site where our Octagon Tour groups can see the traditional palace of the high priest, Joseph Caiaphas, underneath which is a dungeon, where it is believed that Jesus was kept overnight after His trial with Caiaphas, but before His morning trial with Pontius Pilate.
The church is on the eastern slope of Mount Zion, and right next to it are the ancient stairs that Jesus walked up and down just before and immediately after He was arrested at Gethsemane by the Temple guards. It is in the custody of the Assumptionist Fathers, which is a French order established in 1887, and is named for Mary's Assumption into heaven.
The Church’s History
This church probably holds the record for the number of times that it was built, destroyed and rebuilt. The first church was constructed here in 457 AD. It was then destroyed five times, and rebuilt five times, the last time being in the year 1932 AD, which is the church that you see today.
Was this really the Palace of Caiaphas?
To be honest, there is an alternative site for the home of Caiaphas, and its father up the hill, next to the Armenian Church of Saint Savior. But there’s really nothing up there that lends archeological support to this theory.
The earliest historical report of something called the home of Caiaphas was in 333 AD by the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux, who said, "...going up from the Pool of Siloam to Mount Zion one would come across the House of the Priest Caiaphas." However, whether this pilgrim is speaking of the current site here, or an alternate site owned by the Armenian Apostolic Church farther up on the hill, is inconclusive.
The question about which site is the authentic one has been raised by archeologists and historians as to why a high priest like Caiaphas would have taken up residence on the lower eastern slope of the aristocratic upper city? It seems more likely that such a wealthy and influential man would have placed his home on top of the hill.
However, to make matters simple for you, I’m going to assume that the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu is the authentic site of Jesus’ trial with Caiaphas, since there are no physical remains at the Armenian site that present a strong alternate candidate for our consideration.
In the year 1102 AD the Crusaders gave this chapel its name. The Latin word "Gallicantu", means “at the cock's crowing”. This was in commemoration of Peter's triple rejection of Jesus in Mark 14:30.
In the modern courtyard of this church there is a statue depicting Peter’s denial of Jesus, including a rooster, the woman who questioned Peter, and a Roman soldier. The Latin inscription at the base of the statue is from Luke 22:57, and it says, “I do not know Him!”
There’s a problem with that. This was not the site where Peter denied Jesus. Despite the name of the church, Gallicantu, and even though there is a statue of Peter denying Jesus in this courtyard, the Gospels are very clear that Peter’s triple denial of Jesus occurred at another location uphill, at the home of the high priest Annas, which has been traditionally placed at the Church of the Holy Apostles in the Armenian Quarter of the city.
The Biblical Story.
From this point on, I’m going to follow the traditional interpretation of this particular site. Jesus was brought here after His trial with Annas. We believe that He was beaten with canes here, and imprisoned in its dungeon. During Jesus' trial, Caiaphas was not concerned at all with Jesus’ guilt or innocence. He believed that Jesus, no matter how innocent He was, should die rather than place the nation in jeopardy.
To be honest, the Jewish council wanted Jesus gone. He was a threat to their power. They wanted to hear false testimonies against Him, in order to put Him to death. It was a long-shot for them, because they were not allowed by the Romans to put anyone to death. They knew that this sentence could only be handed out by Pontius Pilate himself. When asked if He was the Christ, the Son of God, the Blessed One, Jesus replied, “Yes, I am.” This is when they started to beat Him.
The Upper Church.
The Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu is built on four different levels – an upper church, middle church, guardroom and dungeon.
The main entrance itself is flanked by wrought iron doors covered with Biblical scenes. In the upper level, on the inside, and on the right there are two Byzantine-era mosaics, which were uncovered during excavation. They were most likely part of the floor of a fifth-century Byzantine church that existed on this site.
The main sanctuary on this level contains large mosaics portraying scenes from the Gospels. Facing the entrance is Jesus being questioned in the house of Caiaphas. On the right side, Jesus and His Apostles are shown at the Last Supper. And on the left side, Peter is depicted in an ancient papal dress as the first pope.
Perhaps the most striking feature of the interior of this church is the ceiling, which is dominated by a huge cross-shaped window designed in a variety of colors. The fourteen stations of the cross also line the walls.
The Lower Church.
This is a fisheye look at the lower church. I am standing over the hole through which the guards would have lowered Jesus into the pit.
The back wall of this chapel incorporates stone from this ancient site. There are icons above the altars depicting Saint Peter’s denial, his repentance, and his reconciliation with Jesus on the shore of the Sea of Galilee after the Resurrection. There is a hole in the front of this church where one may peer down into the prisoner’s cell, which is thought to be the cell that Jesus occupied. These walls are engraved with crosses left by fifth-century Christians. And the way that Jesus would have been lowered into the cell is with a rope harness.
The lower level of the church contains a dungeon and a guardroom, both of which are hewn out of bedrock. The guardroom contains anchor holes that were used to attach prisoners’ chains. These holes in the walls and pillars of this dungeon would have been used to fasten a prisoner’s hands and feet. Bowls carved in the floor of this dungeon are believed to have contained salt and vinegar, either to aggravate the pain or to disinfect the wounds of the prisoners.
The fact that electric lights are illuminating this room is deceptive, since in the first century, it would have been almost entirely black in this dungeon as the prisoners were awaiting their sentence.
You can see a small window from the guardroom that served as a portal for a guard to view the prisoner who was being held in the prison cell below.
The Prisoner’s Cell.
Here is a fisheye look at the pit that Jesus stayed in. You can see the hole at the top of the cell through which they lowered Him. The window to the guard room is in the upper right.
This is the lowest part of this dungeon - a rock-cut cell in the lower level of this church, and it’s referred to as the "First Prison of Christ". This is where it is believed that Jesus was held overnight. If you look up, you can see the hole that opens in the middle church, and He was lowered down through this opening using a rope harness. There are no bars in this cell, but escape was impossible. There is a mosaic depicting Jesus being hoisted down here using such a harness. That mosaic is outside on the south wall of the church.
The Maccabean Stairs.
I am walking on the Maccabean Stairs, on which Jesus also walked on the night that He was arrested.
On the north side of the church is an ancient staircase (called the Maccabean Stairs) that leads down towards the Kidron Valley. These steps were certainly built before the time of Jesus, and they provided a passage from the upper city to the lower city during the first Temple period.
It is believed that Jesus walked on these stairs three times on the same night – once when He ascended them to take His disciples to the Upper Room to celebrate the Passover; the second time when He took His disciples down to Gethsemane, where He was arrested, and the third time was when He was escorted up to the home of Annas while in the custody of the Jewish Temple guards.
There are two sculptures at the top of these stairs depicting the last two of these events.
Here is a sculpture showing Jesus leading His Apostles down the Maccabean stairs toward Gethsemane.
Here is a sculpture showing Jesus in the custody of the Temple guards as He is being led up the Maccabean stairs. While the plaque says that He was taken to Caiaphas, Matthew, Luke and John all state that Jesus was first lead “to the house of the high priest, Annas.”
Even if the house of Caiaphas was situated not here, but further up the hill on Mount Zion, this would still have been the route by which Jesus was brought under guard to the house of the high priest Annas.