Rome catacomb frescoes add to debate on women priests
ROME - Reuters
This photo shows a fresco inside the catacomb of Priscilla in Rome. REUTERS photoProponents of a female priesthood say frescoes in the newly restored Catacombs of Priscilla prove there were women priests in early Christianity. The Vatican says such assertions are sensationalist “fairy tales.”
The catacombs, on Rome’s Via Salaria, have been fully reopened after a five-year project that included laser technology to clean some of the ancient frescoes and a new museum to house restored marble fragments of sarcophagi.
Art lovers and the curious around the world, who cannot get to Rome can join the debate by using a virtual visit to the underground labyrinth by Google Maps, a first-time venture mixing antiquity and modern high technology.
Built as Christian burial sites between the second and fifth centuries and meandering underground for 13 km over several levels, the Catacombs of Priscilla contain frescoes of women that have provoked academic debate for many years.
Organizations promoting a female priesthood, such as the Women’s Ordination Conference and the Association of Roman Catholic Woman Priests, have pointed to these ancient scenes as evidence of a female priesthood in the early Church.
“This is an elaboration that has no foundation in reality,” Barbara Mazzei of the Pontifical Commission on Sacred Archaeology told Reuters at the presentation of the restoration on Tuesday.
“This is a fairy tale, a legend,” said Professor Fabrizio Bisconti, superintendent of religious heritage archaeological sites owned by the Vatican, including numerous catacombs scattered around Rome. He said such interpretations were “sensationalist and absolutely not reliable.”