Each of the four Gospels records the account of Peter denying Jesus Christ three times before the rooster crowed. Having been arrested, Jesus was taken to face His trials that were staged for Him to be tried, convicted, and sentenced to death by crucifixion. Peter followed at a safe distance to see what would happen to Jesus. While sitting around with other bystanders, three times Peter was accused of either knowing Jesus or being a follower of Jesus. And, three times Peter denied that he even knows Jesus. After the third denial, the rooster crowed. Peter’s mind instantly returned to the upper room when as they reclined around the table Jesus predicted that Peter would deny Him three times before the rooster crows. Peter, devastated by his failure to stand up for his Lord, left the scene weeping and broken-hearted. After Jesus’ resurrection, Jesus restored Peter by asking Peter three times if he loved Jesus and three times calling Peter to feed Jesus’ sheep. This event shapes who Peter was as a follower of Jesus and prompted him to wholeheartedly follow Jesus the rest of his life.
The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu memorializes Peter’s denial of Jesus, his repentance, and his restoration by Jesus after the resurrection of Christ. “Gallicantu” means “cock-crow” in Latin thus noting Peter’s realization that Jesus’ prediction came true by Peter’s denials. The modern day structure was completed in 1931. A Byzantine chapel dedicated to the event was built on the same spot in the 5th century. Muslim invaders destroyed that structure in 1010. The Crusaders rebuilt the church and renamed the church calling it: The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu. The church was destroyed again after the fall of Jerusalem and it was not rebuilt until the present structure came about on the site.
Along with the beautiful chapel that bears the name, a set of underground crypts or dungeons that sit underneath the church may have actually been where Jesus was imprisoned during His trial since tradition holds that this is the site of Caiaphas’ palace. Above the dungeon sits a guardroom where prisoners would have been flogged. Since Jesus was beaten by the Romans, He would not have been flogged here, but Peter and John and some of the other disciples could have been. On top of the guardroom level sits the chapel of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu.
When approaching the church, one of the most striking features is that it was built on the steep eastern slopes of Mount Zion. Another noticeable feature is that the black cross on the roof that is centered on the darkened dome has a rooster standing on top of it. The interior of the church has huge, colorful mosaics portraying New Testament figures. And, the ceiling is adorned by a massive cross-shaped window that is composed of many different colors.
Running along the north side of the church is a stone paved street that is composed of steps leading down to the Kidron Valley. Jesus very likely traveled these very steps on His way down to the Garden of Gethsemane and then again on His way up to His different trials.
With the exquisite artwork, the stunning chapel, and the rooms and dungeons below the church, the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu provides a remarkable commemoration of Peter’s denial, repentance, and restoration. The roosters that adorn the roof and the artwork remind modern day visitors of the pain of denial and the joy of restoration that Peter experienced.