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The Pio Cristiano museum within the Vatican Museums houses the oldest collection of early Christian art from the 3rd through 5th centuries. The sarcophagi images are replete with biblical story depictions, inscriptions, and portraits of the deceased.
Individual women are portrayed on these sarcophagi at least three times more than individual men. Sister Christine Schenk, CSJ, in her book Crispina and Her Sisters, concludes that these women were remembered and honored for their contributions and leadership within their early Christian communities. Their influence is reflected in the funerary images featuring them holding scrolls, making teaching and praying gestures, situated between in-facing apostles, similar to portraits of Christ with apostles on either side. After in-depth analysis of over 2,100 images of sarcophagi, Schenk concludes that these prominent Christian women were viewed as authoritative figures in the early church.
Osiek, Carolyn, Margaret Y. MacDonald, and Janet H. Tulloch. A Woman’s Place: House Churches in Earliest Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2005.
Schenk, Christine. Crispina and Her Sisters: Women and Authority in Early Christianity. Minneapolis, MN: Fortress Press, 2017.
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