The House of Peter at Capernaum

The House of Peter or the "Insula Sacra" was discovered in 1968. In the late first century CE, a house structure (which was first occupied in Late Hellenistic times) was modified to be come a domus-ecclesia or "house-church." This house had an L-shaped courtyard that was shared by the other rooms or houses adjoining it. Many Herodian oil lamps and fish hooks were discovered in the floor layer from the mid-1st century. Six superimposed floors were actually on top of each other, all containing bits of Herodian oil lamps that date to the mid to late part of the first century and could not be any later than 2nd century. The topmost floor layer above, however, was squeaky clean of vessels, attesting that the use of this building changed dramatically somewhere around 75 CE into the beginning of the 2nd century. The excavators interpreted this as community gatherings and the beginnings of the domus ecclesia - house church.

By the 3rd century CE, the building had underwent more changes, now separated off from the surrounding buildings and village by an enclosure wall. Several layers of plaster were discovered on these walls and they were decorated with many colors and geometric decorations (no human or animal figures). Most importantly, the plastered walls were covered with graffiti. 151 Greek inscriptions, 13 Paleo-Estrangelo, 9 Aramaic and 2 in Latin.

The name of Jesus is mentioned several times in the graffiti in the form of Monograms/Christrograms serving the epithets of Lord, Christ, Most High and God; the word 'Amen' is also present. The name of Peter is also inscribed on the walls.

The 4th century pilgrim Egeria visited this church and described it (as preserved by Petrus Diaconus in 1137)as follows: "The house of the prince of the Apostles in Capernaum was changed into a church; the walls, however are still standing as they were."

This house-church would further go under modification in the fifth century CE. The old churches were filled in with dirt and an octagonal church was built on its new platform.

Peter's house (or mother-in-law's house - later tradition tells us the name of Peter's wife is Petronilla - in which Andrew also resided) was certainly an important place of gathering for the followers of Jesus (Mark 1:29-34, Matthew 8:14-17; Luke 4:38-41) and was very likely the home of Jesus himself (Matthew 17:24-25). The house itself is located just 30 meters away from the First Century Synagogue. Excavations have shown that the house was on the North-South street of Capernaum and that it had an open space before the entry and a large courtyard in the center of a number of surrounding rooms. This seems to confirm what is said in Mark 1:33 that the "The whole town gathered at the door."

Collapsed rooftops on the floors of the 1st century houses in Capernaum have confirmed how roofs were made, through a mixture of mud, river reed and layers of plaster. This soft-made mixture was certainly not made of coarse stone or heavy wood which was not readily available to the common man. Therefore, when we read about the paralytic being brought to Jesus in Mark 2:4 that they "made an opening in the roof above Jesus and, after digging through it, lowered the mat the paralyzed man was lying on," we understand that the writer of Mark, the disciple Peter, clearly had first hand knowledge of how rooftops were made in his town.

There were certainly many other houses in Capernaum mentioned in the New Testament: the house of Matthew (Mark 2:15-17), the house of Jairus (Mark 5:21-23, 35-43), and the house of the Roman centurion (Luke 7:1-10). However, it was for the several miracles and the fact that Jesus' residence was with Peter that that the early Christians built the first house-church (domus ecclesia) on top of the ruins of Peter's house.

Image Credit: Samson Tours

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