The Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu (Church of the Cock) clings to the sheer eastern slope of the Mount of Olives in Jerusalem. This eye-catching church commemorates the site of the High Priest Caiaphas house. Jesus was brought to the High Priest Caiaphas' house and sentenced to death by the Sanhedrin. It was here Saint Peter denied Christ on the eve of the crucifixion. Today, Pilgrims following in the footsteps of Christ's Passion, stop at the Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu. The first church built to mark this Biblical location was in the Byzantine era, in 457AD. Since then consecutive churches have been built, destroyed, and rebuilt on this site. The present Church of Saint Peter in Gallicantu was built here in 1931 by the Assumption congregation, a French-speaking religious order. The unusual name of the church comes from Gallicantu – the Latin word for cockcrow.
As early as 333AD Christian pilgrims named this the location of Caiaphas' house. Excavation at the site of the Church of St. Peter in Gallicantu has uncovered structures that would have been present at the Caiaphas' house including a water cistern, storage rooms, servants' quarters, and a corn mill. They have also uncovered part of a door lintel inscribed with the Hebrew word "Korban" or sacrificial offering. Some Christians believe that the High Priest's house was not here but at the Armenian Orthodox Church of the House of Caiaphas on Mount Zion.
The church commemorates an event that is retold in all four of the Gospels. Jesus sat with his disciples and doubted their loyalty. He then predicted that Peter would deny him three times, before the second crow of the cock. Although Peter was adamant that he would never betray Christ, he did in fact deny knowing Christ three times before dawn. In Acts 5:19-42, we read about the imprisonment of Peter and John which may have been in the prison cells beneath the present-day church.
Visitors to the church enter through a courtyard with a statue depicting St. Peter, the woman who asked St. Peter if he knew Jesus, a rooster, and a Roman Soldier. The entrance opens on to the upper level where there are two excavated Byzantine mosaics from the 5th century Byzantine basilica that once stood here. At the rear of the church are three large mosaics featuring Christ being questioned by the Caiaphas after his arrest; the Last Supper and Peter dressed as the first pope. On the middle level of the church, icons depict Peter's denial, repentance, and reconciliation with Jesus.
Descending to a lower level you can see several rock-hewn caves dating back to the 2nd Temple Period. This kind of cave-like chamber was common in Roman homes. There is a rock-hewn guardroom and prison cell where Jesus could have been held beneath the house. The prison cell is considered sacred and called the Sacred Pit or Christ's Prison. Roman methods of imprisonment and punishment are illustrated by chains attached to the walls and a small opening in the wall allowed guards to keep an eye on the prisoners. A rope and harness would have been used to lower the prisoner into the cell through a narrow shaft opening. A mosaic depicting Jesus in such a harness can be seen on the exterior south wall. On the roof is a golden rooster on a black cross giving a visual reminder of Christ's prophesy that Peter would deny Him three times before the cock crows.