Hatay – St. Peters Grotto (Antakya)
The followers of Jesus were first called Christians in (Antakya) Antioch. Paul and Barnabas were sent on their first missionary journey from this cave church. They sailed from Seleucia Peria.
History of Cave Church of St. Peter
This cave is widely believed to have been dug by the Apostle Peter himself as a place for the early Christian community of Antioch to meet, and thus to be the very first Christian church.
Whether or not this is so, St. Peter (and St. Paul) did preach in Antioch around 50 AD and a church had been established in Antioch by as early as 40 AD.
Antioch became a major center for planning and organizing the apostles’ missionary efforts, and it was the base for Paul’s earliest missionary journeys. Famously, it was the inhabitants of Antioch that first called Jesus’ followers “Christians” (Acts 11:26).
The attractive stone façade of the church was built by Crusaders, who identified the grotto during their rule of Antioch from 1098 to 1268.
What to See at Cave Church of St. Peter
The interior of the grotto church is austere and simple. The only permanent furnishings are a small altar, a single statue, and a stone throne. On the walls are the barely discernible remains of frescoes, and on the floor can be seen some traces of mosaics. In the back of the church is a tunnel that leads into the mountain interior, popularly believed to be a means of escape in times of persecution.
Worship services are still held in St. Peter’s Grotto, especially on the Feast Day of St. Peter and St. Paul (June 29) and on Christmas.
See the Cave Church of St. Peter Photo Gallery for a virtual tour.
Near the church is the Charonion, a stone carving from Hellenistic times.