Archaeologists in Israel’s Galilee have discovered the remains of an ancient structure now said to be the Church of the Apostles – a long-debated biblical site built atop the homes of the apostles Peter and Andrew.
While mentions of the church can be found in Christian text dating as far back as the year 725 AD, there has been no confirmation of its existence, leading some to doubt that it was ever real.
Now, a team from Kinneret College in Israel and Nyack College’s Center for the Study of Ancient Judaism and Christian Origins has found what could be the first physical evidence at the site of el-Araj, in Beit Habek near the northern shore of the Sea of Galilee.
Excavations this summer have turned up ornate mosaic floors, gilded remnants of a wall mosaic, and the fragments of a marble chancel screen that was once adorned with a wreath.
Mordechai Aviam of Kinneret Academic College, on the shore of the Sea of Galilee in northern Israel, said this season’s dig at nearby El-Araj confirmed it as the site of Bethsaida, a fishing village where Peter and his brother Andrew were born according to the Gospel of John.
The Byzantine church was found near remnants of a Roman-era settlement, matching the location of Bethsaida as described by the first century AD Roman historian Flavius Josephus, Aviam said.
The newly-discovered church, he added, fitted the account of Willibald, the Bavarian bishop of Eichstaett who visited the area around 725 AD and reported that a church at Bethsaida had been built on the site of Peter and Andrew’s home.
According to Willibald, Aviam says, Bethsaida lay between the biblical sites of Capernaum and Kursi.