Visiting St. Peter’s Church
The church is located on top of Old Jaffa Hill, next to the visitors’ center. Knees and shoulders must be covered. It’s a good place to start your day tour of Jaffa and south Tel Aviv.
Monday–Saturday: 8:00–11:45, 15:00–17:00, Sunday: 15:00–17:00
The biblical Story
In Christianity, the importance of Jaffa is connected to an event that occurred after the ascension of Jesus to heaven. Peter, one of the more important apostles, stays in the home of Simon the Tanner in Jaffa. He goes up to the roof to pray and falls into a trance. Peter then has a vision of a large sheet containing all kinds of animals and birds descending from heaven. A voice calls him and tells him to kill something and eat, but he protests that the meat is unclean (not kosher and thus forbidden for Jews to consume). The voice replies “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” (Acts 10:15).
The vision has great significance. Though many people remain unaware of this fact, Christianity actually began as a Jewish sect. Nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus announce that he intends to create a new religion, or that Christians should attend church on Sundays. Jesus was born a Jew, the apostles were Jews, he preached to Jews, and he was given a Jewish burial. Only after Jesus’ death did Peter, who is considered to be the first pope, and Paul, the most important apostle, try to separate Judaism from Christianity.
Later in the same chapter in which Peter had the vision, he arrives in Caesarea to baptize Cornelius, the first non-Jew who converts to Christianity. Peter’s vision and his conversion of Cornelius to Christianity are the first two steps in a long process of Christianity disconnecting itself from Judaism. The process was gradual, and the split was completed only at the beginning of the 4th century. At the Council of Nicaea – the first ecumenical Christian council that gathered, in the year 325, in the Hellenistic city of Nicaea (located within modern Turkey) – it was finally decided to separate the dates of Passover and Easter. Easter was to be celebrated on the first Sunday after the first full moon that occurred on or after the spring equinox (the day in late March when night and day are nearly equal length). Until then, Easter had been observed by Christians during the Jewish festival of Passover.
St. Peter’s Church is located where, according to Catholic tradition, the house of Simon the Tanner stood. The church is special because its apse and altar are located in the western part of the church. Most of the Churches face the east – Jesus as a symbol of light. But because this church commemorates an event that is essentially an appeal to non-Jews and to all the nations across the sea, it faces west. There is another detail worth mentioning. The cross located at the front of the church stands on top of a rock. Jesus told Peter at Banias (one of the Jordan springs) that he is the rock upon which his church will be built. Another one of Peter’s names is Cepha, the Aramaic word for “rock.” When this church was built, a rock was brought from Banias, on top of which the cross was fastened. St. Peter’s Church was built and destroyed a number of times, and most of today’s building dates from 1894. The construction was financed by Spain’s royal house, which is why it is constructed in a Spanish architectural style.
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More sights in Tel Aviv:
Jaffa Port – the unimpressive gate to the Holy Land…
Eichmann’s Prison Cell
Rabin Square – unimpressive, gray, lacking in history and yet…
Sarona – from German colony to exclusive shopping center
The American Colony – Mark Twain, Herman Melville and John Steinbeck in Tel Aviv
Bauhaus – a style that defined Tel Aviv