Ancient church found where Jesus called Peter 'the rock'

(Photo: Yaniv Cohen/ Nature and Parks Authority)

One of the earliest churches in Israel has been uncovered by archaeologists at a site traditionally believed to be where Jesus gave Peter the keys to the kingdom of Heaven.

The 4th century Byzantine church was discovered at the foot of waterfalls in the Banias Nature Reserve, in northern Israel, the Times of Israel reports.

The cross-decorated mosaic flooring(Photo: Yaniv Cohen/ Nature and Parks Authority)

Archaeologists found a mosaic flooring decorated with the cross, and dressed stone featuring incised crosses. 

Excavations revealed that the church's builders repurposed a Roman pagan temple to the Greek god Pan that originally stood on the site.

University of Haifa Professor Adi Erlich said the church may have been built to commemorate Jesus' famous conversation with Peter. 

Matthew 16:18 records Jesus telling Peter: "You are Peter and, on this rock, I will build my Church... I will give you the keys to the kingdom of heaven." 

Erlich speculated that the stone decorated with etched crosses was a type of 'I was here' graffiti left by pilgrims visiting the site in the 6th to 7th centuries.