The Vatican on Tuesday reopened a restored burial chamber below northern Rome that is home to controversial frescoes that some say depict women priests in the early Christian church.
The Catacombs of Priscilla, fully reopened Tuesday after five years of restoration, stretch for miles and include the earliest known image of the Madonna and Child, dated around 230-240 A.D.
But two particular frescoes show, supporters of women in the priesthood say, scenes of women priests, including a woman in a robe with her hands up in the position used by priests for public worship, the Associated Press reports. The Association of Roman Catholic Women Priests use the frescoes to back their case for women priests.
The Vatican, which argues Jesus selected only men as his apostles, restricts priesthood to men. Frabrizio Bisconti, the superintendent of the Vatican’s sacred archaeology commission, told the AP that interpreting the women in the images as priests was “fable, a legend.” The woman with her hands up was simply praying on her own, he said.
Amid the restorations, the Vatican also allowed Google Maps to chronicle the inside of the catacombs online.