Bishop Theodora – 9th Century Female Bishop!

Paul Collins. ‘Theodora the Bishop’: Pope Francis and Women Deacons



Santa Prassede is famous for its stunning mosaics over the high altar and in the small, extraordinary Chapel of Zeno. In the north lunette of the chapel there are four women who, in the Byzantine way gaze directly at you. The slightly taller one is Mary with her blue veil. She is surrounded by the sisters Praxedes (after whom the church is named) and Prudentiana. But it’s the first woman who stands out. She has an unusual rectangular nimbus (halo) around her head which means she was still alive when the mosaic was created. An inscription in gold lettering identifies her as ‘Theodo[ra] Episcopa’, ‘Theodora the bishop’. She was Paschal I’s mother, but that isn’t why she was called episcopa.

Episcopa means woman ‘bishop’, ‘presbyter’, or ‘elder’. This suggests that she exercised authority in the church equivalent to men who had the same title. The problem is tying down exactly what these titles meant at the time and what function Theodora fulfilled.


Read the full post at “Pearls and Irritations

2 thoughts on “Bishop Theodora – 9th Century Female Bishop!

  1. This reminds me that I was able to lead our 2015 LGBT Catholic pilgrims to Rome to view these mosaics – yet another of Rome’s ‘best kept secrets’. However, some scholars suggest that the term ‘episcopa’ was also used to refer to the wife of a bishop in the early Church. Menadue doesn’t mention this in his article, so I wonder how John Wijngaards might comment on it?

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