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Women Deacons & Deaconesses
in historical records

Literary sources have left us ample records of deaconesses in different parts of the Byzantine Empire. Constantinople's main cathedral, the Hagia Sophia, counted among its clergy 6o priests, 100 male deacons and 40 deaconesses (Justinian, Novella 3.1)

For a full list of deacons from the early church see here: records.

Here are some deaconesses we know by name, often because of their connections with Church leaders. They represent thousands whose names remain hidden, like those of the ordinary priests and deacons.

The names of some deaconesses have also been preserved on tomb stones. At least 28 have been identified. Here are some typical examples:

Tomb stone of Sophia

* Sophia of Jerusalem (4th cent. AD?). The Greek inscription reads: “Here lies the servant and virgin of Christ, the deacon [!], the second Phoebe [Rom 16,1], who passed away in peace on the 21st day of March . . . May the Lord God . . .” (Revue biblique, New 1 (1904) pp. 260-262).

* Theodora of Gaul (present-day France) carried this latin inscription on her tomb: “Here rests in peace and of good remembrance Theodora the deaconess who lived about 48 years and died on 22 July 539.”

Tomb stone of Athanasia

* Another tombstone found in Delphi, Greece, and belonging to the 5th century remembers a certain Athanasia. “The most devout deaconess Athanasia, established deaconess by his holiness bishop Pantamianos after she had lived a blameless life. He erected this tomb on the place where her honoured [body ?] lies. If soneone else dares to open this tomb in which the deaconess has been buried, may he receive the fate of Judas, who betrayed our Lord Jesus Christ . . . Nothing less the clerics who were found gathered . . ” (H.Leclercq, Dictionnaire de'Archéologie Chrétienne, Paris 1921, vol. IV, col. 570-571).

Tomb stone of Eneon

* Another tomb stone at Jerusalem remembers the deaconess Eneon who ministered to the sick: “Tomb of Eneon, daughter of Neoiketis, deaconess in this hospital” (Maffei, Museum Veronense, Verona 1749, p. 179).

More detailed information can be found from these authors:

Read also: Deaconesses in Late Antique Gaul.

John Wijngaards


Wijngaards Institute for Catholic ResearchThis website is maintained by the Wijngaards Institute for Catholic Research.

The Institute is known for issuing academic reports and statements on relevant issues in the Church. These have included scholars' declarations on the need of collegiality in the exercise of church authority, on the ethics of using contraceptives in marriage and the urgency of re-instating the sacramental diaconate of women.

Visit also our websites:Women Deacons, The Body is Sacred and Mystery and Beyond.

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