Researchers unearthed a fresco in Naples that depicts a woman named Cerula with her hands raised in prayer and flaming Gospel books floating above her, which are said to represent the role of a bishop.
The image is 'incredibly significant' evidence that Jesus had many more female disciples than previously thought, claim academics.
The discovery will be highlighted in Channel 4's programme Jesus' Female Disciples: The New Evidence, and will air next weekend.
The catacomb wall paintings were recently restored after being rediscovered in 1971, reported the Sunday Telegraph.
Experts say Cerula was painted either in the late Fifth Century or the early Sixth Century, suggesting that women were in senior positions in the Church from early on.
The female bishop has a red 'chi-rho' symbol of Christ floating over her head. And the four gospel volumes indicate that she was in a position of authority.
Dr Ally Kateusz, an expert in early Christian art, told the Channel 4 programme: 'Bishops, and bishops only, had open gospel books placed over their heads during their ordination ritual.'