Last week, the Vatican showed the public the first glimpse of its newly restored frescoes, which are situated in the Catacombs of Priscilla. The Catacombs of Priscilla are where the earliest image of Madonna with Child was witnessed. These frescoes are also thought to depict images of female priests back in the days of the early Christian church.
The Vatican’s cultural minister, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, oversaw the opening of the “Cubicle of Lazzaro,” a small burial chamber that shows 4th century scenes of the Apostles Peter and Paul. The burial chamber also depicts images of the early Romans that were buried there.
The burial chambers are part of the huge cemetery complex that spans for miles and miles under the north of Rome. The complex is called the “Queen of the Catacombs” because of the many burial chambers that exists there. Inside the complex, there is also a small fresco depicting an early image of the Madonna and Child.
On a more controversial note, the Catacomb also features two images that are thought to show women as priests. There has been a long debate over the place of women in the Church and the images are sure to add weight to the argument of people who say that women should play a more powerful role in the church.
Furthermore, the images have not escaped the attention of the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests. They say that the images serve as evidence that back in the days of the early Christian church there in fact were female priests, and the Association argues that it means women should also be allowed to be priests in modern times.
However, Fabrizio Bisconti, who acts as the superintendent of the Vatican’s sacred archaeology commission has dismissed the argument as “fable” and says that the images do not show female priests at all.
According to the Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests, the images show women at the banquet of the Eucharist, however, Bisconti disagrees and says that the images in fact show the women at a funeral banquet. He also argues that although women were there at the ceremony, they were not celebrating Mass.
The Vatican continues to view priesthood as a male domain and states that Jesus only chose men as apostles; the debate over women serving as priests in the church looks set to continue well into the future.
If you aren’t planning a trip to Vatican City in the near future, you can view the Catacombs of Priscilla through a virtual tour on Google Maps.