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The Church of Saint Peter (Aramaic: Knisset Mar Semaan Kefa, Turkish: Senpiyer Kilisesi, St. Peter's Cave Church, Cave-Church of St. Peter) near Antakya (Antioch), Turkey, is composed of a cave carved into the mountainside on Mount Starius with a depth of 13 m (42 ft.), a width of 9.5 m (31 ft.) and a height of 7 m (23 ft). This cave, which some believe was used by the very first Christians, is one of Christianity's oldest churches.
History of congregation and church building
Some people believe that the founding of the church in Antioch can be traced to the Biblical Acts of the Apostles (11:25-27), which relates that Barnabas travelled to Tarsus to bring Paul the Apostle there. They worked for a year with the nascent Christian community, and their adherents to the faith were called "Christians" for the first time. Christian tradition considers the apostle Peter to be the founder of the church of Antioch and the first priest of the Christian population established there; the Church of St. Peter is traditionally considered to be at the place where he first preached the Gospel in Antioch.
The oldest surviving parts of the church building date from at least the 4th or 5th century; these include some pieces of floor mosaics, and traces of frescoes on the right side of the altar. The tunnel inside which opens to the mountainside is thought to have served the Christians for evacuation of the church in case of sudden raids and attacks. Water which seeps from the nearby rocks was gathered inside to drink and to use for baptism; flow of this water, which visitors drank and collected to give to those who were ill (believing that it was healing and curative), has lessened as a result of recent earthquakes.
Crusaders of the First Crusade who captured Antakya in 1098 lengthened the church by a few meters and connected it with two arches to the facade, which they constructed. Acting on orders from Pope Pius IX, Capuchin Friars restored the church and rebuilt the facade in 1863; French Emperor Napoleon III contributed to the restoration. The remains to the left of the entrance belong to colonnades which formerly stood in front of the present facade.
Atop the stone altar in the middle of the church is a stonework platform placed in memory of Saint Peter's Platform Holiday, which was celebrated every 21 February in Antakya. A marble statue of Saint Peter was placed above the altar in 1932.
The garden of the church has been used as a cemetery for hundreds of years. Graves and burials have also been located inside the church, especially around the altar. The church is one of the three final resting places of the remains of the Holy Roman Emperor Frederick Barbarossa, who died in the Third Crusade.
The church is a museum today, but it is possible to perform worship services inside the church under the inspection of the Museum Management by obtaining a permit from the Office of the Provincial Governor.
- Clyde E. Fant, Mitchell Glenn Reddish, A guide to biblical sites in Greece and Turkey (Oxford University Press US, 2003), pg. 149
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