What’s Beneath the Vatican?

meRl1VuGrowing up, I was really into Biblical archaeology.

Allow me to explain.

My grandmother, a woman of great faith, subscribed to a magazine called Biblical Archaeological Review. I loved that magazine. To be sure, it was far more appealing than its neighbors on the coffee table, Good Housekeeping and National Geographic.

I think two things about B.A.R. caught my attention. First, the Indiana Jones factor. Surely the discovery of cracked potsherds in the ruins of Biblical Gilgal must imply poisoned arrows flying from the walls, treasure maps on ancient amulets and, most likely, the arc of the covenant hidden in a snake filled chamber. But more importantly, I think B.A.R. wooed me because it promised, well, truth. Or certainty. Or the affirmation of faith, both mine and my grandmother’s. In other words, find a stele inscribed with “King David” and you can bank on the resurrection.

Since those days, I’ve sort of settled in with my faith. Sure, archaeology is important, but it’s not everything. These days, my faith is built on much more than the pages of B.A.R. Still, every now and then, an archaeological discovery catches my eye. Maybe there’s something new to understand about the faith?!?

Yesterday, it was reported that some frescoes in some ancient Roman catacombs depicted women serving in the early church…as priests. Priests! Here’s what could be in those paintings:

“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.”

Predictably, the Vatican sees something different on the walls. Fabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of the Vatican’s sacred archaeology commission, said such a reading of the frescoes was pure “fable, a legend…These are readings of the past that are a bit sensationalistic but aren’t trustworthy.”

Perhaps. Or perhaps not. Feel free to see them yourselves here.

Several months ago, I blogged about the church mothers (here and here). And in one piece, I quoted from a book called When Women Were Priests by Karen Jo Torjeson:

“The last thirty years of American scholarship have produced an amazing range of evidence for women’s roles as deacons, priests, presbyters, and even bishops in Christian churches from the first through the thirteenth century.”

Could it be that there is archeological evidence of this, right under the church’s feet?!?

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