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definition - Pontius Pilate’s wife

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Pontius Pilate's wife

Saint Procula / Claudia

Pilate's wife, Saint Procla (right), in a Greek Orthodox icon
Born unknown
Honored in Eastern Orthodox Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Feast 27 October (Eastern Orthodox)
25 June (Ethiopian Orthodox)

Pontius Pilate's wife (Latin: uxor Pilati; Greek: γυνὴ Πιλάτου, gunē Pilātou; fl. 1st century) is unnamed in the New Testament, where she appears a single time in the Gospel of Matthew. Alternate Christian traditions have referred to her as Saint Procula (also spelled Proculla or Procla) or Saint Claudia, and the combinations Claudia Procles and Claudia Procula have been used. Since little is said of her in the New Testament, and no verifiable biography exists, details on Pilate's wife are surmised from Christian tradition and legend.


  Biblical references

In the New Testament, the only reference to Pilate's wife exists in a single sentence by Matthew. According to the Matthew 27:19, she sent a message to her husband asking him not to condemn Jesus Christ to death:

While Pilate was sitting in the judgment hall, his wife sent him a message: "Have nothing to do with that innocent man, because in a dream last night, I suffered much on account of him."[1]

Pilate did not heed his wife's warning. The name "Claudia" only appears once in the New Testament, in the Second Epistle to Timothy 4:21: "Eubulus, Pudens, Linus and Claudia send their greetings, and so all the other Christians."

  Early Christian references and theological interpretations

Origen's 2nd century Homilies on Matthew suggest that she became a Christian,[2][3] or at least that God sent her the dream mentioned by Matthew so that she would become one.[4][5] This interpretation was shared by several theologians of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Rival theologians contended the dream was sent by Satan in an attempt to thwart the salvation that was going to result from Christ's death.[4][5]

Pontius Pilate's wife is mentioned in the apocryphal Acts of Pilate (Gospel of Nicodemus, probably written around the middle of the 4th century),[6] which gives a more elaborate version of the episode of the dream than Matthew.[7][8] The name Procula derives from translated versions of that text. The chronicle of Pseudo-Dexter (1619) is the first place known where she is referred to as Claudia.[5]


Procula is recognized as a saint in two churches within the Eastern Christian tradition: the Eastern Orthodox Church and the Ethiopian Orthodox Church. In the Eastern Orthodox Church, she is celebrated on 27 October. The Ethiopian Orthodox Church celebrates Pilate and Procula together on 25 June.[2]

  Purported letter by Pilate's wife

A letter, purportedly written in Latin by Pilate's wife from "a little Gallic mountain town" several years after Pilate left Jerusalem, was first published in English by Pictorial Review Magazine in April 1929.[9] The English version of the letter was provided by writer Catherine Van Dyke and it states that Pilate's wife successfully sought Jesus' aid to heal the crippled foot of her son Pilo.[10]

  In the arts

  The Dream of Pilate's Wife by Alphonse François

Pilate's wife is often, but not usually, shown in medieval depictions of the scenes including her husband, typically standing behind him, and sometimes whispering in his ear.[11]

She is a major character in the Tapiters' and Couchers' Play of the York Mystery Plays cycle, where she introduces herself as "Dame Precious Percula".[12] Her dream is dictated by the Devil. He first soliloquises to the effect that if Jesus dies, he, the Devil, will lose control of men's souls. He then tells the sleeping Percula that Jesus is innocent, and that if he is condemned, she and Pilate will lose their privileged position. She wakes and sends a message to Pilate, but Annas and Caiaphas succeed in convincing him that her dream was inspired by Jesus's witchcraft.

Pilate's wife has been featured in later literature, theatre, film and television. Charlotte Brontë wrote the poem "Pilate's Wife's Dream" in 1846.[13] The Biblical scholar Paul Maier, in Pontius Pilate: A Biographical Novel (1968), attempts to take what is known from the documented record and from there construct a fictional narrative as connective material. Maier refers to Pilate's wife as "Procula" arguing that the name "Claudia" only comes from a later tradition.[14]

Novels inspired by Pilate's wife include The Bride of Pilate (1959) by Esther Kellner and Pilate's Wife: A Novel of the Roman Empire (2006) by Antoinette May. Both books use the name Claudia, and May's book depicts her parents as Roman aristocrats related by blood to Emperor Augustus.[15] Pilate's Wife by H.D. (Hilda Doolittle), written between 1929 and 1934 but posthumously published in 2000, presents Pilate's wife with the name Veronica.[16]

In theater, the life of Pilate's wife has been the subject of the dramas “A Play for Easter” by Jewell Ellen Smith [17] and “Claudia Procula” by Curt M. Joseph.[18] The Andrew Lloyd Webber-Tim Rice stage musical Jesus Christ Superstar and the subsequent film version omits Pilate's wife and gives the dream about Jesus to her husband in the song Pilate's Dream.[19]

In films, Pilate's wife was called “Proculla” in the 1927 Cecil B. DeMille epic The King of Kings; Majel Coleman played the role. She is mentioned briefly in Pilate's hand-washing scene in 1953's The Robe ("Even my wife had an opinion").Other notable cinematic references include Barbara Billingsley in the 1954 Day of Triumph, Viveca Lindfors in the 1961 King of Kings (where she is identified as the daughter of the Emperor Tiberius), Jeanne Crain in the 1962 Italian film Ponzio Pilato, and Angela Lansbury in the 1965 epic The Greatest Story Ever Told.)[20]

In the 2004 movie The Passion of the Christ she is known as Claudia Procles (played by Claudia Gerini). In this film, Claudia fails in her effort to lobby her husband to save Jesus,[21] and consoles Jesus' mother Mary and Mary Magdalene, as she generously hands them towels to clean up the blood from his scourging.[22]

Pontius Pilate's wife also appeared in comedy: John Case played her in Monty Python's 1979 Life of Brian.[23]

On television, Pilate’s wife was played by Joan Leslie in the 1951 Family Theater episode "Hill Number One" (also starring James Dean as John the Apostle) and by Geraldine Fitzgerald in the 1952 Studio One episode "Pontius Pilate" (where Procula is depicted a half-Jewish, and is brought before Pilate as a Christian rebel herself, 15 years after Jesus' death.) Hope Lange played her in the 1980 made-for-television film The Day Christ Died. More recently, Pilate's wife is featured in the 2008 TV serial The Passion, played by Esther Hall.[24]

  See also


  1. ^ See, for instance, Wikisource:Bible (World English)/Matthew#Chapter 27
  2. ^ a b  "Pontius Pilate". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  3. ^ Paul L. Maier. Pontius Pilate: A Biographical Novel. Kregel Publications, 1995, ISBN 0-8254-3296-0, p. 370 (endnotes to Chapter 26)
  4. ^ a b Sandro Sticca. The Latin Passion Play: Its Origins and Development. SUNY Press, 1970, ISBN 0-87395-045-3, p. 98
  5. ^ a b c Ulrich Luz, Helmut Koester (contributor), James E. Crouch (translator). Matthew 21-28: A Commentary. Fortress Press, Minneapolis, 2005, ISBN 0-8006-3770-4, p. 499
  6. ^  "Acta Pilati". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 1913. 
  7. ^ The Acts of Pilate, Chapter 2, Paragraph 1, translated by M. R. James
  8. ^ "THE GOSPEL OF NICODEMUS, OR ACTS OF PILATE", from The Apocryphal New Testament, M.R. James (translation and notes). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924
  9. ^ Issana Press - this company published a version of Claudia's purported letter ("A Letter from Pontius Pilate's Wife") in the booklet Relics of Repentance ISBN 0-9625158-2-5
  10. ^ Time Magazine, 1963-04-12: "Gospel According to Claudia"
  11. ^ G Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II,1972 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, p. 66, and passim see Index, ISBN 853313245
  12. ^ original text of Tapiters and Couchers Play at University of Michigan
  13. ^ "Pilate's Wife's Dream" by Charlotte Brontë
  14. ^ Paul L. Maier. Pontius Pilate: A Biographical Novel. Kregel Publications, 1995, ISBN 0-8254-3296-0. preview at Google Book Search
  15. ^ USA Today coverage of "Pilate's Wife"
  16. ^ Amazon.ca/Library Journal review
  17. ^ The Dream of Claudia Procula - Jewell Ellen Smith
  18. ^ Trunk-In-The-Attic Drama Resources - Contemporary Bible Dramas
  19. ^ Original score listing for “Jesus Christ Superstar”
  20. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (2003). Halliwell’s Film & Video Guide. HarperResource. ISBN 0-06-050890-6
  21. ^ Variety review
  22. ^ Boston Globe
  23. ^ Chapman, Graham; Cleese, John; Gilliam, Terry; Idle, Eric; Jones, Terry; Palin, Michael (1979). Monty Python's The Life of Brian/Montypythonscrapbook. London: Eyre Methuen. 
  24. ^ Film and TV productions featuring the character Claudia Procula

  External links



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