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Woman Priesthood

Vatican says evidence of female priesthood in early Christianity is “fairy tale”

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In a claim that the Vatican has brushed off as a “fairy tale”, proponents of female priesthood say that the newly restored Catacombs of Priscilla in Rome provide undeniable proof that there were female priests in early Christianity .

After 5 years of restoration work to clean ancient frescoes, the Catacombs of Priscilla have just been reopened to the public. They were built between the second and fifth centuries and stretch out over 13 kilometres over several levels.  Some would argue that the most significant feature of the catacombs is the frescoes that adorn the walls – not just for their beauty, but also for the scenes they depict.

In one room, called the "Cubiculum of the Veiled Woman", a scene depicts a woman with arms outstretched like those of a priest saying Mass. She wears what the catacombs' Italian website calls "a rich liturgical garment", as well as a stole (a vestment worn by priests).

In another room, known as “The Greek Chapel”, the frescoes show a group of women sitting around a table with their arms outstretched like those of priests celebrating Mass.  

According to organisations promoting female priesthood, these ancient scenes provide evidence that there were women priests in early Christianity. However, the Vatican vehemently denies such interpretations. "This is an elaboration that has no foundation in reality," said Barbara Mazzei of the Pontifical Commission on Sacred Archaeology.  Professor Fabrizio Bisconti, superintendent of religious heritage archaeological sites owned by the Vatican said: "This is a fairy tale, a legend”.

Bisconti said the fresco of the woman in a gesture of priest-like prayer was "a depiction of a deceased person now in paradise," and the women sitting at the table were taking part in a "funeral banquet" and were not celebrating Mass.

The Church teaches that women cannot become priests because Jesus willingly chose only men as his apostles.

By April Holloway

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