The Church dates back to the Crusader period. At various time it was used for other purposes and was once used as a mosque. During the 16th-17th centuries it was maintained by Franciscans, ‘Custodians of the Holy Land’. It was bought in 1847 and restored in 1870 to what became known as church of St. Peter
According to Epiphanius, Christianity became established in Tiberias in the 4th century, when a convert from Judaism, Count Joseph, obtained permission from the emperor Constantine to build a church where the pagan temple of Adrian had stood.
In the 7th century, St. Willibald saw reports the existence of churches as well as the synagogues in Tiberias.
The Crusaders, unaware of the Byzantine churches at Kfar Nachum and Tabgha and the local traditions they preserved, built their own churches in Tiberias to commemorate events from the life of Jesus. The Gospels, however, make no mention of Jesus ever visiting Tiberias. Tiberias is mentioned only in John 6:23, who describes boats from Tiberias going out to meet Jesus. The Crusaders designed this church to suggest the shape of a boat overturned at the water’s edge, symbolising Peter leaving his boat to follow Jesus.
As you enter the front gate, note the outside wall of the apse near the last water faucet. The groove in the stone now serves no apparent purpose. This is one of many stones the Crusaders took from the abandoned Roman/Byzantine city for reuse. Above the entrance to the church is a relief of Jesus commissioning Peter with the keys to the kingdom of heaven.
The wooden statues on the walls inside the church are of the six apostles from this area (Peter, Andrew, James, John, Philip and Mathew); Francis, founder of the Franciscan; St Anthony, patron saint of Franciscans in Israel; and St Joseph.
The technique used in the painting over the altar is graffito, etching on coloured cement. Pictures in the centre show the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. Around them the four animals from the vision of Ezekiel represent the four gospels.
The south wall bears evidence that the church was once used as a mosque, a mikhrab, the niche in a mosque wall indicating the direction of Mecca, was carved into the original masonry. When the building returned to use as a church, the niche was filled in with uneven stone.
In the courtyard there is a copy of the statue of St Peter with keys, from St. Peter’s in the Vatican. The metal chains around the base symbolize prison chains, referring to Peter’s imprisonment in Jerusalem under King Herod.
The monument at the end of the courtyard, donated by a Polish Free Army unit serving with the British forces in Tiberias during the World War II, is a token of the soldiers’ appreciation for hospitality they enjoyed here. The monument’s elements include medieval and modem Polish soldiers, coats of arms of Polish towns, and a representation of the Virgin of Czestochowa, a historic symbol of Polish nationalism. The right cheek of the icon had once been ‘bayoneted’ and the mark is reproduced in the copy.
Over the centuries the church has been used as a mosque a caravansary, and a stable. The present church, maintained by the Franciscans, was restored in 1870. Today it is the Latin parish church for north eastern Israel.