Women Priests in the South of Italy and in Sicily
There may be evidence to accept that from the 2nd to the 6th centuries AD, women priests - presbyterae - functioned in the South of Italy and in Sicily. Here are some examples:
1. A fourth-century tombstone (image to the right) records the burial of Guilia Runa, woman priest.
2. Another inscription of the 5th century records the life of "Leta Presbitera": "Sacred to her good memory. Leta the Presbyter lived 40 years, 8 months, 9 days, for whom her husband set up this tomb. She preceded him in peace on the day before the Ides of May". The epitaph refers to a presbyter Leta, having died at just over forty, for whom her husband had set up a tomb; this inscription comes from the catacomb of Tropea, a small town that has offered the most consistent epigraphical and monumental documentation of Paleochristian Bruttium. See image below.
B(onae) m(emoriae) s(acrum). Leta presbitera/vixit annos XL, menses VIII, dies VIIII/ quei (scil. cui) bene fecit maritus/ Precessit in pace pridie/idus Maias
Up to now many scholars have always construed the term presytera as the wife of the presbyter. New evidence suggests that the Leta of the epigraph of Tropea was a true and proper presbytera: that is, a woman who was practising the sacerdotal ministry in the Christian community of Tropea. An analysis of the archeological evidence, as well as literary evidence, including Pope Gelasius letter (494 AD) and the testimony of Bishop Atto of Vercelli (9th cent.), has led Professor Giorgio Otranto to firmly conclude to the presence of ministerial women priests in the South of Italy and Sicily.
Read his conclusions for yourself:
- Priesthood, Precedent and Prejudice. On Recovering the Women Priests of Early Christianity by Mary Ann Rossi (see credits) from: Journal of Feminist Studies 7 (1991) no 1, pp. 73 - 94. It contains a translation from the Italian of "Notes on the Female Priesthood in Antiquity," by Giorgio Otranto.
- The Problem of the Ordination of Women in the Early Christian Priesthood. Lecture delivered in the USA in 1991 by Professor Giorgio Otranto, University of Bari, Italy; translation by Dr. Mary Ann Rossi ( see credits).
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