The Church of the Primacy of Peter is a modest Franciscan chapel that incorporates part of a 4th-century church. It is located at Tabgha on the northwest shore of the Sea of Galilee and commemorates Jesus’ reinstatement of Peter after a fish breakfast on the shore. This church is part of the Catholic Church Tours of Shalom Israel!
In John 21, Jesus appears to his disciples for the third time after his resurrection on the shores of the Sea of Galilee. The night before, Peter and several other disciples had sailed out on the lake to fish, but caught nothing. In the morning, a man appeared on the shore and called out to them to throw their net on the right side of the boat. Doing so, they caught so many fish they couldn’t drag the net back into the boat.
At this point Peter recognizes Jesus, and promptly jumps out of the boat to wade to shore to meet him. The other disciples follow in the boat, dragging the net behind them. When they land, Jesus has prepared a charcoal fire for the fish and provided bread, and they have breakfast together (John 21:9). This is believed to have taken place on the mensa Christi, a large rock incorporated in the chapel.
After breakfast, Jesus reinstated Peter (after his three-time denial of Jesus at the crucifixion) with the words “Feed my sheep” (John 21:15-19). This is the event for which the modern church is named, which is interpreted by the Catholic Church to give the Pope (as the successor of Peter) authority over the worldwide Church.
History of the Church of the Primacy of Peter
Sometime around 381, the Spanish pilgrim Egeria visited the area and reported that next to the Church of the Loaves and Fishes “are some stone steps where the Lord stood” (John 21:4).
Egeria does not mention a church here, but one was built on the site by the end of the 4th century. It was roughly the same size and shape as the original Church of the Loaves and Fishes and its east end enclosed a flat rock identified as the table on which Jesus offered breakfast to the disciples (John 21:9).
In the 9th century, the church is referred to as the Place of the Coals. By this time (first mentioned 808 AD), the Twelve Thrones had been placed along the shore to commemorate the Twelve Apostles. The church survived longer than any other church in the area, and was finally destroyed in 1263. The present Franciscan chapel was built on the site in 1933.
What to See at the Church of the Primacy of Peter
The Franciscan chapel is small and made of grey stone, with a modest tower in one corner. It is pleasantly located right on the northwest shoreline of the Sea of Galilee.
At the base of the chapel’s walls on the west end, the walls of the late 4th-century church are clearly visible on three sides. Like the early church, the modern chapel incorporates a large portion of the stone “table of Christ” (Latin: Mensa Christi) at the altar. This is where Jesus is believed to have served his disciples a fish breakfast after they landed on shore (John 21:9).
On the lake side of the church are the rock-cut steps mentioned by Egeria as the place “where the Lord stood.” It is not known when they were carved, but it may have been in the 2nd or 3rd century when this area was quarried for limestone.
Below the steps are six heart-shaped double-column blocks known as the Twelve Thrones, which can be under water when the lake level is high. Originally designed for the angle of a colonnade, they were probably taken from disused buildings and placed here to commemorate the Twelve Apostles. The association likely derived from Luke 22:30: “You will eat and drink at my table in my kingdom, and you will sit on thrones to judge the twelve tribes of Israel.”
Just beside the church is a small Crusader building. Also nearby are Byzantine water towers that were designed to raise the water level of the powerful springs so that they flowed into a series of irrigation canals and mill-streams. The mills are modern.