Simon “The Rock” Peter – The Stones that Symbolize the First Papacy

Brianna CampbellHoly Land

Found in Tabgha along the shoreline of the Sea of Galilee, not far from where the multiplication of the loaves and fishes took place, is a quaint Roman Catholic Church made of gray stone. It’s quite simple, with a single column that is topped off by a bell and crucifix, and a few windows peppering the outside walls. Its red roof stands out amongst the greenery that surrounds it. This is the Church of the Primacy of St. Peter, a site that commemorates the event that started a papal lineage that spans 265 successors.

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First constructed in the fourth century, it would later be destroyed in 1263. In 1933, the structure that stands today was built and incorporated the remains of the first church, which can still be seen around the foundation. Around the 9th century, the space was first referred to as the Place of the Coals, because it is believed that this is the spot where Jesus appeared to his disciples for the third time after his Resurrection and cooked for them. It was here that Jesus called out to his apostles, telling them to cast their net to the right side of the boat, where they caught so many fish, they couldn’t even haul in the net. Upon coming back to shore, they saw that Jesus had prepared breakfast for them. The rock on which they ate, known in Latin as “Mensa Christi,” is located inside the Church right in front of the altar. It was soon after this meal that Jesus questioned Peter and gave him his commissioning as the head of His Church:

When they had finished breakfast, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Feed my lambs.” He then said to him a second time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” He said to him, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.” He said to him, “Tend my sheep.” He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?” Peter was distressed that he had said to him a third time, “Do you love me?” and he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.” [Jesus] said to him, “Feed my sheep. (John 21:15-17)

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Sitting just outside the church near the shoreline sit 6 heart-shaped rocks that once made up the bases of second century columns. It’s the spot where they are laid that it is believed Jesus stood and called out to his disciples while they were fishing. Though they wouldn’t have been around during the time of Christ, these pillars hold a beautifully symbolic meaning to the pilgrims that journey to see them today. They can represent the three questions and the three answers that are exchanged between Jesus and Peter, the depth of love that Jesus holds for his people, and the movement of the heart that Peter experienced to shepherd the flock that Jesus left to his care – a movement that continues in Peter’s successors to this day.

Want to experience this place for yourself? Go on one of our many trips to the Holy Land, found here.