St. Peter’s Memorial
The need to build a memorial to St. Peter grew out of the desire to promote the revival of worship as it had been carried out in the first centuries AD. The project also took into consideration the need to safeguard and enhance this Holy Place, which preserves the memory of the Apostle’s home and of the places where Christ preached and was active. The building allows pilgrims and visitors to rejoice in the precious remains of Peter’s house and in the liturgical structures that developed around it and in function of it.
Today the pilgrim can observe the archaeological remains of Peter’s house and the successive constructions, both at a lower level along a path at street level that passes beneath the Memorial before arriving at the Byzantine octagon, and on an upper level by means of a quadrangular oculus within the Memorial through which the site can be viewed from above.
The project, designed by the Italian architect Ildo Avetta and carried out at the end of the 1980s, sought to emphasize the importance of the location by creating a structure that would invoke the profound importance of the archaeological site, its history and, above all, the events of Jesus’ and Peter’s lives. To this end, the main element of the Memorial was conceived as a ship whose hull would appear to hover above the Apostle’s house, an image alluding to the call of the Apostle Peter, who from simple fisherman became a fisher of men and head of the Church of Christ.
The execution of this truly audacious and ultramodern project, which required long and complex studies by the engineer Cesare Pocci and the collaboration of the Technion (Israel Institute of Technology) of Haifa, was entrusted to the well-known Israeli construction and civil engineering company Solel Bonneh, under the continuous supervision of the engineer Anis Sruji of Nazareth.
The Memorial was consecrated by Cardinal Lourdusamy on 29 June 1990, a date that is inscribed on the facade in Latin script: BEATO PETRO APOSTOLO A.D. MCMXC DICATUM (Dedicated to the blessed Apostle Peter in the year 1990). Pope John Paul II sent a special message to mark the occasion, of which two excerpts are reproduced on the internal walls alongside the entrance.
Despite the low height of the building, which was constructed in an octagonal form to suggest the form of the ancient Byzantine church, it gives the appearance of a harmonious and airy structure, due above all to the architect’s use of immense full-length windows on the eight sides of the Memorial.
Through the use of various combinations of wall and ceiling coverings in white stone, the architect sought to bring to memory the stone of the monumental synagogue, while the use of basalt flagstone is in harmony with the Greek nature of the private residences of the ancient village of Capernaum. This attention to detail has allowed the structure to become, in a harmonious manner, a part of the landscape of the lake. The central part of the building is based around four double arches that, on both its upper and lower levels, link together the pillars that support the entire structure.
Upon entering the Memorial one is struck by a sensation of vast size and brightness of the internal space, due to the use of bright colors and large full-length windows. In this context the four carved wood panels placed along the sides of the entryway and the presbytery fit in harmoniously. The two in the entryway are the work of the artist Raoul Vistoli: the Virgin entering the House of St. Peter along with illustrations showing corporal works of mercy, and St. Peter on a Boat, with illustrations depicting spiritual works of mercy. The two panels along the sides of the presbytery are by the artist Giovanni Dragoni and show Christ on the Cross and Jesus in Peter’s house training his disciples on the theme of humility. One has a distinct sensation of the building floating in the air, as there are no columns descending from the vaulted ceiling to disturb one’s vision, while the vast central oculus helps one distinguish the raised level of the tiered steps with respect to Peter’s house lying underneath.
The architectural lines of the interior serve to emphasize the unitary concept of the Memorial whose visual fulcrum is Peter’s house lying below, which comes into sight at the end of a series of steps descending towards the center of the amphitheater.
The altar of the presbytery provides a symbolic allusion to the theological theme of Peter’s house becoming the house of Jesus, the Apostle from that point onwards accompanying the Master in his role as pastor of the Church. Of particular beauty are the mosaics by Enzo Rossi, with their bright and vivid colors, which combine the Biblical theme of manna in the desert with that of the multiplication of loaves.
Among the holy furnishings of the church should be mentioned the wooden tabernacle that reproduces the Hebrew letter Tau, an image of the redeeming cross, a work by Igino Legnaghi.
One of the principal aesthetic features of the memorial is the series of eight large full-scale windows that open onto the lovely countryside of the lake, which together with the oculus help the visitor to visually enter the context of the City of Jesus.