Peter's House in Capernaum

Leaving Nazareth, he went and lived in Capernaum, which was by the lake in the area of Zebulun and Naphtali.                          Matthew 4 : 13

Jesus was raised in Nazareth but moved to Capernaum - the home town of the fishermen Peter, James, John and Andrew. From there he was able to undertake missionary journeys to the towns and villages around the lake. On several occasions the gospels refer to him as 'returning' to Capernaum suggesting it had become his home town. Mark's gospel explains that on one occasion, when Jesus was 'at home', some friends made a hole in the roof and lowered an invalid down to his side.

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The Sea of Galilee

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Supposed likeness of Egeria

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Charles William Wilson

During the 4th century a west European woman known as Egeria made a pilgrim journey to the Holy Land and wrote about her experiences in a journal. Among her many visits was one to the town of Capernaum of which she wrote -

“in Capernaum, what is more,

the house of the prince of the Apostles [Peter]

has been turned into a church, 

leaving its original walls however quite unchanged.” 

Around the year 570 a pilgrim from Piacenza in Italy also made a journey to the Holy Land and kept a journal in which he wrote -

"Then we came to Capernaum,

and the house of blessed Peter,

which is now a basilica."

Capernaum was abandoned in the 11th century and it ruins discovered and identified by Charles Wilson in 1866. The first archaeologists working in the 1920's discovered the foundations of an octagonal Byzantium church; in the 1960's archaeologists discovered that underneath the octagonal church were the remains of a 1st century Galilean house dwelling. Later work showed that this dwelling had been used as a house church for several hundred years.

The 1968 excavations which were carried out by Franciscan archaeologists began with the octagonal Byzantium church built in the 5th century. They discovered that the centre of the octagon, the altar, was placed directly above a large room belonging to a 1st century dwelling house.

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The Byzantium church under the present day Visitors Centre.

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The dwelling complex consisted of several small rooms around two courtyards. Evidence found included fish hooks.

The room below the later church, described as a 'large venerated room', showed signs of considerable later development.

Plan of the 1st century

dwelling complex

The room had been converted into a hall with its roof raised by an arch; an entrance (atrium) was built next to it; the whole complex was later enclosed with a boundary wall which controlled entry and exit; the venerated room had been plastered and among the remains were found references to Peter and 'the Lord Jesus Christ'.

These excavations, which continued into the early 2000's, have shown that the original 1st century, extended family dwelling complex, had been venerated as a centre of Christian activity for several hundred years until built over by an octagonal Byzantium church in the 5th century. This church was carefully placed so that it's central altar was directly above the large venerated hall.

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The literary evidence links the ancient church at Capernaum with Peter's house. The gospel of Mark refers to the house of Peter and Andrew along with Peter's mother-in-law as being in Capernaum suggesting a housing complex with several dwelling rooms. The rooms were small as they would have been used for sleeping and the storing personal items. 

Over the years Peter's house was developed into a house church and was so highly valued that it was a centre of Christian activity for several hundred years.

However, when we consider that Jesus was described as going to live in Capernaum, and ask which, of all the houses in the town, would be venerated the most the conclusion must be that Jesus went to live with Peter where he used the largest of the complex rooms. Large enough for a small crowd to meet with him leading a group of friends to make a hole in the roof.

A few days later, when Jesus again entered Capernaum, the people heard that he had come home. They gathered in such large numbers that there was no room left, not even outside the door, and he preached the word to them. Some men came, bringing to him a paralyzed man, carried by four of them.  Since they could not get him to Jesus because of the crowd, they made an opening in the roof above Jesus by digging through it and then lowered the mat the man was lying on. When Jesus saw their faith, he said to the paralyzed man, “Son, your sins are forgiven."                                                                                                             Mark 2 : 1 - 5

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Sunset over the Sea of Galilee

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In 1990 a new church and Visitors centre was built over the excavations attracting worshippers and visitors from all around the world.

In the middle of the church is a glass screen through which can be seen the foundations of the Byzantium church built over the venerated hall of the 1st century dwelling.

Around the centre are the foundations of the ancient village of Capernaum with the remains of a synagogue nearby. Beneath the present synagogue remains is the foundations of the 1st century synagogue mentioned in the gospels.

 "Then they went into Capernaum,

and immediately on the Sabbath

he entered the synagogue and taught. 

And they were astonished at his teaching,

for he taught them as one having authority,

and not as the scribes."

                                                                        Mark 1 : 21 - 22