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Getting A Look At Vatican Catacomb Frescoes

November 23, 2013

The news from the Vatican this week was most intersecting.

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The Vatican on Tuesday unveiled newly restored frescoes in the Catacombs of Priscilla, known for housing the earliest known image of the Madonna with Child — and frescoes said by some to show women priests in the early Christian church.

Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, the Vatican’s culture minister, presided over the opening of the “Cubicle of Lazzaro,” a tiny burial chamber featuring 4th century images of biblical scenes, the Apostles Peter and Paul, and one of the early Romans buried there in bunk-bed-like stacks as was common in antiquity.

The labyrinthine cemetery complex stretching for kilometers (miles) underneath northern Rome is known as the “Queen of the catacombs” because it features burial chambers of popes and a tiny, delicate fresco of the Madonna nursing Jesus dating from around 230-240 A.D., the earliest known image of the Madonna and Child.

More controversially, the catacomb tour features two scenes said by proponents of the women’s ordination movement to show women priests: One in the ochre-hued Greek Chapel features a group of women celebrating a banquet, said to be the banquet of the Eucharist. Another fresco in a richly decorated burial chamber features a woman, dressed in a dalmatic — a cassock-like robe — with her hands up in the position used by priests for public worship.

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