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Tomb inscriptions for ministering widows in ancient Rome

These inscriptions carry the word 'Widow' as a title. In normal tomb inscriptions, the information that a woman died as a widow is hardly ever found. The implications of the title 'Widow' are confirmed by remarks such as that she never relied on the local church community for personal financial support, or that she lived for God, etc.

Source: Ute E. Eisen, Amtsträgerinnen im frühen Christentum, Göttingen 1996, pp. 138-145.

1. Flavia Arkas

Catacomb of Priscilla (2nd century)

[Φλαβί]α ΄ΑρΚας χήρα ‘ητις

[΄εζησε]ν ‘αιτη πε’ μητρι

[γλυκυ]τατηι Φλαβια Θεοφιλα

Θυγατηρ ΄εποιησεν

Flavia Arkas, a widow, who lived 85 years.

Flavia Theophila her daughter erected [this epitaph] for her sweetest mother.

 

2. Rigina

cemetery of Saturninus (4th/5th century)

Rigine vene merenti filia sua fecit

vene. Rigine matri viduae que se

dit vidua annos LX et eclesa

numqua[m] gravavit, unibyra, que

vixit annos LXXX, mesis V,

dies XXVI.

To the well-deserving Rigina her daughter did well [= erected this stone]. For her mother Rigina, the Widow, who 'sat' [= served] as Widow for sixty years and never was a burden to her church, wife of one husband. She lived 80 years 5 months and 26 days.

 

Comment

It is clear that she was a ministering widow. Also presbyters are said on tombstones to have 'sat' [in the church assembly] for so many years. An inscription in Ferentino points to a widow who 'sat' in the basilica. Rigina's official ministry as a widow is confirmed by the note that she never received financial help from the community.

 

3. Daphne

(4th/5th century)

Daphnen uidua q conuix[it . . . ]

aclesia[m] nih[il] gravavit a [ . . . ]

The Widow Daphne who lived [ . . . . . . ]

she never was a burden to her church [ . . . . ]

 

Comment

See under Rigina above

 

4. Octavia

in the Santa Sabina (4th/5th century)

Octaviae Matronae

uiduae dei.

To Octavia the matron

Widow of God

 

Comment

The title 'widow of God' refers to Octavia's ecclesiastical ministry.

 

5. Pia

tomb decorated with a palm branch and ivy leaves

VIDUA P[IA] FELICISSIMA

IN DEO VIVES

Widow Pia, may you very happily

live in God

 

Comment

The implication is that, since she ministered as a widow of God, she will now live happily with God.

 

6. Laurentia

4th century

HIC DAMASI MATER POSUIT LAUREntia membRA

QUAE FUIT IN TERRIS CENTUM MINUS . . . aNNOS

SEXAGINTA DEO VIXIT POsT FOEdera . . .

PROGENIE QUARTA VIDIT QuAE . . .

Here Laurentia, mother of Damasus, laid down her members. She was on earth for one hundred minus [eleven] years.

Sixty years she lived for God after the bond [of marriage] . . .

She saw the fourth [generation of] offspring which . . . [or?: after experiencing the fourth generation of offspring] she now sees God's kingdom, etc.]

 

Comment

Laurentia was the mother of Damasus who was Pope from 366 to 384. The inscription dates from before his becoming Pope. She lived 89 years. She must have lost her husband when 29 and then served 60 years as a Widow.


Ministries of women in the West

Deaconesses
gaul, italy, germany
Widows
north africa, gaul, italy
Conhospitae
england, wales, ireland
Presbyterae
southern italy, sicily
Freilas
basque area, gaul, spain
Abbess
Sacerdos
england, germany



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