November 27, 2008
Later we went to see the Catacombs of Priscilla. A convent of Benedictine Sisters has their house over these early burial sites. A Pricilla is named together with an Acilius, in a burial inscription preserved in this cemetery dating from the 1st century. I have long heard about these catacombs, which are out of the way in Rome and not as popular as the ones along the Appian Way. The guide for our late afternoon venture into the catacombs was a young woman who took us deep into the underground caves. The catacombs, once thought to be the hiding places of early Christians, are in fact only their burial places. They may well have held the burial services for their families inside the catacombs but they are primarily burial sites. There are many beautiful frescoes on the arches and walls of the catacombs. One of the frescoes is of Mary and the baby Jesus and it dates at 230 CE. It is thought to be the earliest depiction of Mary and Jesus. There are many other early frescoes but my favorite and the one I have heard about from many scholars is of a woman depicted in the orans position (arms outstretched). Her arms outstretched in prayer (like a priest at the Eucharist), she may well represent an early depiction of a woman in leadership in the church. As I stood gazing at this picture of a woman praying there was a deep confirmation of vocation. The guide reminded us that there was a pagan religion in Rome, Mithras, which did not allow women to become members. The Christians who rivaled the Mithrianites, allowed women and encouraged their participation.
After this stirring visit we went to an art exhibit at the Museo de Corso. They had an exhibit of Vermeer and Rembrandt paintings that crowned the day with glory. “The girl with the pearl earring”, one of Vermeer’s most well known paintings was a part of this exhibit and worth the evening visit. This was truly a spectacular day in Rome.