Mike Aquilina

Nave in the Cave

Wednesday March 19th 2008, 3:09 am

An ancient church may be caving in …

ANTIOCH, Turkey, MARCH 12, 2008 (Zenit.org) – The Cave Church of St. Peter, considered the first Christian church in Antioch, has been closed due to structural concerns.

Capuchin Father Egidio Picucci, noted historian of Turkey and the Early Church, confirmed Sunday to L’Osservatore Romano that Turkish authorities closed the church March 1 due to risks that the structure could cave in.

Also known as St. Peter’s Grotto, the church is a natural cave on the western face of Mount Stauris, which towers over Antioch.

After the collapse of large sections, said Father Picucci, “the possibility that further collapses could constitute a serious danger for the security of visitors led the museum directors — for the Turkish government St. Peter’s Grotto is only a museum — to take these measures.”

It is widely believed that St. Peter himself dug the cave as a place for the first community of Christians in Antioch to gather.

Father Picucci explained that St. Peter’s Grotto, although it is “full of ancient Christian symbols […] is a place dear to all inhabitants of Antioch, including Muslims.”

“On the feast of St. Peter,” he said, “everyone comes to get blessed bread and to drink water,” which is considered “miraculous,” and is brought home by residents and to the sick.

The stone church, he added, is “particularly dear to the Catholic and Orthodox communities,” who always celebrate Christmas and Easter together in the grotto.