Pontius Pilate's wife

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Saint Claudia Procula
Pontius Pilate's wife.jpg
Icon of Saint Claudia Procles
Governess of Judea
Saint, Widow and Martyr
Venerated in Eastern Orthodox Church
Ethiopian Orthodox Church
Feast 27 October (Eastern Orthodox)
25 June (Ethiopian Orthodox)

Pontius Pilate's wife (Latin: uxor Pilati),[1] unnamed in the Bible, appears in a single verse of the Gospel of Matthew, where she tries to persuade her husband not to condemn Jesus Christ to death (c. early 30s AD). Various legendary and fictional accounts expanded the New Testament's brief anecdote about her, and named her, for instance, Procula, Claudia, Claudia Procula or Claudia Procles. She is considered a saint in some Eastern Christian churches.

Early Christianity to Middle ages

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

While [Pilate] was sitting on the judge's seat, his wife sent a message to him that said, "Don't do anything to this good man, because today I've suffered terribly because of a dream about him."

— Matthew 27:19

The Gospel narrative continues with Pilate being pressured to sentence Christ to death, which he eventually does (Matt. 27:26).

The apocryphal Letter of Pilate to Herod, dating from around the 3rd–4th century, names Pilate's wife as Procla and connects to[how?] the story of Matthew 27:19.[2] In the document Pilate and his wife are portrayed as Christian converts.[3] The apocryphal Gospel of Nicodemus, also known as Acta Pilati, probably written around the middle of the 4th century, gives a more elaborate version of the episode of the dream than Matthew, and names Pilate's wife as Procula.[4][5][6][7]

In the 3rd century, Origen suggested in his Homilies on Matthew that the wife of Pilate had become a Christian,[8][9] or at least that God sent her the dream mentioned by Matthew so that she would convert.[7][10] This interpretation was shared by several theologians of Antiquity and the Middle Ages. Other theologians held a different view: they contended the dream was sent by Satan in an attempt to thwart the salvation that was going to result from Christ's death.[7][10] A 12th-century Latin Passion play[11] describes the dream of Pilate's wife as an apparition of the devil ("diabolus appareat ei").[1]

Christ before Pontius Pilate, late 15th-century Limoges enamel by Monvaerni Master (Walters Art Museum): "... Pilate is flanked [...] on his left by the attendant sent by Pilate's wife to warn him"

Pilate's wife is sometimes shown in medieval depictions of scenes including her husband. She typically stands behind him, sometimes whispering in his ear, while other representations of Matthew's version of the scene in Pilate's court may depict an intermediary delivering the message of Pilate's wife to her husband.[12]

Pilate's wife is a major character in the 30th York Mystery Play (Tapiters' and Couchers' Play), where she introduces herself as "Dame Precious Percula".[13] 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.

Renaissance to 19th century

The Dream of Pilate's Wife (ca. 1879), engraving by Alphonse François, after Gustave Doré.
The Message of Pilate's Wife (1886–94) by James Tissot (Brooklyn Museum)

Aemilia Lanyer, whom A. L. Rowse believed to be the dark lady of Shakespeare's sonnets, wrote a poem, Salve Deus Rex Judaeorum (1611), in which Pilate's wife is the main speaker. She makes reference to the Fall of Adam and Eve and argues that Pilate's sin in killing Christ abrogates the curse on Eve, since Pilate sinned by not listening to his wife (unlike Adam, who sinned by hearkening to the voice of Eve). Pilate's wife (who is never named in Lanyer's poem) thereby becomes a champion of women's emancipation.[citation needed]

Pseudo-Dexter combined pre-existing traditions that alternatively called Pilate's wife Procula and Claudia into the single name Claudia Procula.[14][15][full citation needed] In Anne Catherine Emmerich's visions, as recounted by Clemens Brentano, she appears as Claudia Procles.[16] "Pilate's Wife's Dream" is an 1846 poem by Charlotte Brontë.[17]

A letter, purportedly written by Pilate's wife, was first published, in Slovenian, in the Catholic journal Kmetijske in rokodelske novice, in 1865. According to the publication, the letter was translated from French by Luiza Pesjak (sl).[18] An English translation of the purported letter was published as Letter from Pontius Pilate's Wife.[19]

20th to 21st century

Pilate's Wife, published posthumously in 2000, is a novel H.D. (Hilda Doolittle) wrote between 1929 and 1934, and which presents Pilate's wife with the name Veronica.[20] "The Wife of Pilate" (de) is a 1955 novella by Gertrud von Le Fort.[21] The Bride of Pilate is a 1959 novel by Esther Kellner.[citation needed] In Pontius Pilate: A Biographical Novel (1968), the biblical scholar Paul Maier adds fictional connective material to documented data. Maier refers to Pilate's wife as "Procula," arguing that the name "Claudia" only comes from a later tradition.[22] Carol Ann Duffy's 1999 poetry collection The World's Wife contains a poem titled "Pilate's Wife".[citation needed]

Pilate's wife was called "Proculla" in the Cecil B. DeMille epic The King of Kings (1927) where Majel Coleman played the role.[citation needed] She had a major part in Julien Duvivier's Golgotha (1935), played by Edwige Feuillère.[citation needed] On television, she 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 as half-Jewish, and is brought before Pilate as a Christian rebel herself, fifteen years after Jesus' death).[citation needed]

Pilate's wife is mentioned briefly in Pilate's hand-washing scene in The Robe (1953) ("Even my wife had an opinion").[citation needed] Other cinematic references include Barbara Billingsley in the Day of Triumph (1954), Viveca Lindfors in the King of Kings (1961) (where she is identified as the daughter of the Emperor Tiberius), Jeanne Crain in the Italian film Ponzio Pilato (1962), and Angela Lansbury in the epic The Greatest Story Ever Told (1965).[citation needed] In 1963 Marjorie Lord performed the role of Claudia Procula on stage.[23] Pilate's wife also appeared in comedy: John Case played her in Monty Python's 1979 Life of Brian.[24] Hope Lange played Pontius Pilate's wife in the 1980 made-for-television film The Day Christ Died.[citation needed] She is also depicted in the film The Inquiry (1986), where she is played by Phyllis Margaret Logan, as well as in the remake of The Inquiry (2006), played by Anna Kanakis.[25]

In the film The Passion of the Christ (2004), 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,[26] and consoles Jesus' mother Mary and Mary Magdalene as she generously hands them towels to clean up the blood from his scourging.[27] Pilate's wife is featured in the 2008 TV serial The Passion, played by Esther Hall, and in the 2013 miniseries The Bible, portrayed by Louise Delamere.[28] Delamere reprised her role in 2014's Son of God.[citation needed] Joanne Whalley portrayed Pilate's wife in the 2015 series A.D. The Bible Continues.[29]

Two novels by Antoinette May, Pilate's Wife: A Novel of the Roman Empire (2006) and Claudia: Daughter of Rome (2008), use the name Claudia.[citation needed] May's book[which?] depicts her parents as Roman aristocrats related by blood to Emperor Augustus.[30] D.S. Ryelle's Early One Morning has several brief appearances by Claudia Procula—in one scene, she appeals to the high priestess of Isis when she has a nightmare involving her husband.[31] In his historical novel "The Advocate", Randy Singer refers to Pilate's wife as "Procula" and tells of an earlier vision in which she had seen and been healed by Jesus.[32]


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.[8][33]


  1. ^ a b Sticca 1970, p. 72
  2. ^ Ehrman and Pleše 2011, p. 519
  3. ^ Ehrman and Pleše 2011, p. 517.
  4. ^ Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Acta Pilati". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  5. ^ The Acts of Pilate, Chapter 2, Paragraph 1, translated by M. R. James
  6. ^ "The Gospel of Nicodemus, or Acts of Pilate", from The Apocryphal New Testament, M.R. James (translation and notes). Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1924
  7. ^ a b c Sticca 1970, p. 98
  8. ^ a b Wikisource-logo.svg Herbermann, Charles, ed. (1913). "Pontius Pilate". Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. 
  9. ^ Paul L. Maier. Pontius Pilate: A Biographical Novel. Kregel Publications, 1995, ISBN 0-8254-3296-0, p. 370 (endnotes to Chapter 26)
  10. ^ a b 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
  11. ^ Sticca 1970, p. 51
  12. ^ G Schiller, Iconography of Christian Art, Vol. II,1972 (English trans from German), Lund Humphries, London, p. 66, and passim see Index, ISBN 0-85331-324-5
  13. ^ original text of Tapiters and Couchers Play at University of Michigan
  14. ^ Katrina B. Olds. Forging The Past: Invented Histories in Counter-Reformation Spain. Yale University Press, 2015. ISBN 978-0-300-18522-5), p. 119
  15. ^ Erwin Preuschen, Zeitschrift für die Neutestamentliche Wissenschaft und die Kunde der älteren Kirche, Volumes 86-87 (Berlin: W. de Gruyter, 1995).
  16. ^ Clemens Brentano, after an oral account by Anne Catherine Emmerich. The Dolorous Passion of Our Lord Jesus Christ. 1833. (At Project Gutenberg: 20th edition, 1904)
  17. ^ "Pilate's Wife's Dream" by Charlotte Brontë
  18. ^ Kmetijske in rokodelske novice, 12.04.1865, volume 23, number 15, pages 117-120
  19. ^ Catherine Van Dyke. Letter from Pontius Pilate's Wife. TEACH Services, Incorporated, 2008. ISBN 1572585765
  20. ^ Amazon.ca/Library Journal review
  21. ^ Francis Phillips. "A Christian genius and her inspired account of the life of Pilate’s wife" in The Catholic Herald, 1 April 2015
  22. ^ Paul L. Maier. Pontius Pilate: A Biographical Novel. Kregel Publications, 1995, ISBN 0-8254-3296-0. preview at Google Book Search
  23. ^ Time Magazine, 1963-04-12: "Gospel According to Claudia"
  24. ^ Chapman, Graham; Cleese, John; Gilliam, Terry; Idle, Eric; Jones, Terry; Palin, Michael (1979). Monty Python's The Life of Brian/Montypythonscrapbook. London: Eyre Methuen. 
  25. ^ Halliwell, Leslie (2003). Halliwell’s Film & Video Guide. HarperResource. ISBN 0-06-050890-6.
  26. ^ Variety review
  27. ^ Boston Globe
  28. ^ Film and TV productions featuring the character Claudia Procula
  29. ^ Joanne Whalley plays "Claudia" in :AD: The Bible Continues"
  30. ^ USA Today coverage of "Pilate's Wife"
  31. ^ D.S. Ryelle. Early One Morning. DarkMoon Publishing. (October 27, 2013), ASIN B00G8GJ0R4. [1]
  32. ^ Randy Singer. The Advocate. Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. (May 1, 2014), ISBN 978-1414391304. [2]
  33. ^ "The Fate of Pontius Pilate," Hermes 99.3 (1971), p. 362.

Cited works

External links

Media related to Claudia Procula at Wikimedia Commons

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