On a quiet side street in Rome is a beautiful Byzantine basilica, Santa Prassede, to which the Scientist and I took a long walk so that I could pay my respects to an old friend. In the early '90's, one of my former professors, Karen Jo Torjesen, published her book, When Women Were Priests. On the cover is a mosaic from Santa Prassede's exquisite St. Zeno Chapel:
(That's my picture, not the one from the book.) The three women with round haloes are Sts. Prudentiana and Praxedis (Prassede), who are buried in the crypt, and Mary the mother of Jesus. Above the halo of the woman on the left (the square halo indicates she was alive when the mosaic was made) is inscribed Theodora Episcopa, "Bishop Theodora". Does this indicate that ordination of women was occurring, at least in some circles, as late as the ninth century A.D.? Torjesen certainly thinks so. Those who disagree argue that Theodora was the mother of the bishop, and that she was given the title episcopa as an honorific. Be that as it may; Torjesen makes a great case for the prominence of women in church leadership in the early centuries of the church, and how that leadership was suppressed as the church moved more from the private to the public arena. One thing I was determined to do in Rome was to go see the Bishop. Here I am (dark pink shirt) entering the St. Zeno chapel:
This is my off-kilter photo of its ceiling. You can see lots of pictures of these mosaics and the interior of St. Prassede, way better than mine, here.
It was a long, hot walk from Trastevere up through ancient Rome, past the Colosseum, through a park near the Domus Aureus (Nero's house), where men playing bocce smiled at us, and dozens of ordinary Romans were out enjoying their weekend. We got a drink and a jam tart in a little cafe where a friendly counterman was patient with my fractured Italian, then answered me in perfect English...Oh, and on the way to Santa Prassede we stopped off at San Pietro in Vincoli (St. Peter in Chains) to say hi to this guy: