About “Queer Saints and Martyrs”

At my primary blog, “Queering the Church”, and at my blogger site, “Queer Saints and Martyrs (and Others)“. one of the strands I have been exploring for some years now has been the place of LGBT/queer people in Christian history.

However, I have been dissatisfied with the blogger technology(and the way I set it up originally), and am in the process of transferring the entire site here, to the WordPress platform. Continue reading About “Queer Saints and Martyrs”

Let Us Remember, for Nov 30th:

Blessed Bernardo de Hoyos: “The Spouse of Christ”

from Queer Saints and Martyrs:

In Catholic spiritual tradition, there is an important and honoured place for the idea of “The Bride of Christ”. At one level, we are taught to think of the Church as a whole as such a bride of Christ, and the wedding at Cana as a metaphor for the marriage of Christ to his bride, the Church. At another level, religious women think of themselves as forgoing human marriage, to become brides of Christ. The image is a powerful and valuable one, in developing that personal relationship with the Lord that we seek – but where does it leave men, who may find it difficult to imagine themselves as brides?

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and also, from Jesus in Love Blog

St Bernardo de Hoyos: Mystical Same-Sex Marriage with Christ

“The Mystical Marriage of Blessed Fr. Bernardo de Hoyos y Sena, SJ”
By William Hart McNichols © www.fatherbill.org

Blessed Bernardo Francisco de Hoyos y Sena is an 18th-century Spanish priest who wrote vividly of his mystical gay marriage to Jesus. He was beatified in 2010 and his feast day is today (Nov. 29).

Bernardo (1711-1735) was 18 when he had a vision of marrying Jesus in a ceremony much like a human wedding. He described it this way:

Always holding my right hand, the Lord had me occupy the empty throne; then He fitted on my finger a gold ring…. “May this ring be an earnest of our love. You are Mine, and I am yours. You may call yourself and sign Bernardo de Jesus, thus, as I said to my spouse, Santa Teresa, you are Bernardo de Jesus and I am Jesus de Bernardo. My honor is yours; your honor is Mine. Consider My glory that of your Spouse; I will consider yours, that of My spouse. All Mine is yours, and all yours is Mine. What I am by nature you share by grace. You and I are one!”

(quoted from “The Visions of Bernard Francis De Hoyos, S.J.” by Henri Bechard, S.J.)


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Let Us Remember, for Nov 27th:

Harvey Milk and others who have been martyred for their labours towards LGBT equality:

From Jesus in Love Blog

Harvey Milk: LGBT rights pioneer assassinated (1978)

 Harvey Milk of San Francisco
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. Copyright 1987
Courtesy of www.trinitystores.com (800.699.4482)

Pioneering gay rights activist Harvey Milk (1930-1978) was assassinated on Nov. 27, 1978 (32 years ago today). Milk is the first and most famous openly gay male elected official in California, and perhaps the world. He became the public face of the LGBT rights movement, and his reputation has continued to grow since his death. He has been called a martyr for GLBT rights.

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country,” Milk said. Two bullets did enter his brain, and his vision of GLBT people living openly is also coming true.

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Let Us Remember, for Nov 20th:

All those murdered for their honesty in choosing to live in conformity with their innate gender.

From Jesus in Love Blog

Transgender Day of Remembrance

Transgender Day of Remembrance by Mikhaela Reid http://www.mikhaela.net/

Today, on Transgender Day of Remembrance, we commemorate those who were killed due to anti-transgender hate or prejudice. The event was founded in 1999 to honor Rita Hester, whose murder on Nov. 28, 1998 sparked the “Remembering Our Dead” web project. Since then it has grown into an international phenomenon observed around the world. It serves the dual purpose of honoring the dead and raising public awareness of hate crimes against transgenders — that is, transsexuals, crossdressers, and other gender-variant people. Mikhaela Reid pictures some of the more prominent victims of anti-transgender violence in the cartoon above: Rita Hester, Brandon Teena (subject of the movie “Boys Don’t Cry”), Gwen Arujo, Chanelle Picket, Nakia Ladelle Baker, Debra Forte, and Tyra Hunter.

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Jimmy Creech, Methodist Pioneer for LGBT Equality

On November 17, 1999 Methodist minister Jimmy Creech was stripped of his clerical status for presiding over a same-sex holy union.

In April of 1999, Creech celebrated the holy union of two men in Chapel Hill. Charges were brought against him and a church trial was held in Grand Island, Nebraska, on November 17, 1999. In August of 1998, the Judicial Council of The United Methodist Church ruled that the statement prohibiting “homosexual unions” was church law in spite of its location in the Social Principles. Consequently, the jury in this second trial declared Creech guilty of “disobedience to the Order and Discipline of The United Methodist Church” and withdrew his credentials of ordination.
Since the summer of 1998, Creech has been travelling around the country to preach in churches and to speak on college and university campuses, as well as to various community and national Gay Rights organizations. Currently, he is writing a book about his experiences of the Church’s struggle to welcome and accept lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons. He is the Chairperson of the Board of Directors of Soulforce, Inc., an interreligious movement using the principles of nonviolent resistance, taught and practiced by Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., to confront the spiritual violence perpetrated against lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons by religious institutions.
(Read the full bio at LGBT Religious Archives)


The Story of the Queer Saints and Martyrs: Synopsis


Prequel: Before Christianity

Studies of the animal kingdom, and of non-Western and pre-industrial societies show clearly that there is no single “natural” form for either human or animal sexuality. Homosexual activity  has been described by science for all divisions of the animal kingdom, in all periods of history, and in all regions of the world. Most religions recognise this. The monotheistic Christian religion teaches that God made us in His own image and likeness – but other religions, when they attempted to picture their many gods and goddesses, created their gods in human image and likeness, and so incorporated into their pantheon many gods who had sex with males – either divine or human.

The Hebrews’ concept of a single all-powerful God did not incorporate any concept of divine sexuality, but they did include into their Scriptures numerous passages that describe same sex loving relationships  as well as the books of the prophets who were eunuchs.

The Christian Gospels offer tantalizing hints at Jesus’ own sexuality which may have included some male love interest. However, more directly relevant to us are His teaching and example , which clearly show that His message is an inclusive one, that quite explicitly does include sexual minorities of all kinds.

After the Gospels, the most important Christian writings are the letters of Paul, who has a reputation as strongly condemning same sex behaviour – but a more careful consideration of his life as well as his letters, in their own context, can offer a different perspective.

The Early Christians.

The cultural context of the early was one where  they were political and even social outcasts, in a society of a bewildering range of attitudes to sexuality, ranging from substantial sexual licence for Roman citizens, to negligible freedom of sexual choice for slaves, to sexual abstemiousness for those influenced by Greek stoicism. The stories of queer saints that come down to us include those of martyred Roman soldiers, martyred Roman women, bishops who wrote skilled erotic poems, and (especially in the Eastern regions), cross-dressing monks.

In addition to the examples of individuals who were honoured as saints, there are also important examples from Church practice. Evidence from archaeology and written records shows clearly that from the late Roman period onwards, the Church made liturgical provision for the recognition of same sex couples. From Macedonia, there is extensive evidence of Christian same sex couples who were buried in shared graves. More telling evidence for church recognition of same sex couples comes from the existence of formal liturgical rites for blessing their unions. In the Eastern Church, these rites (known as “adelphopoeisis”)  date from the late Roman period. In the Western Church, where the evidence begins a little later, they were known as making of “sworn brothers”.

Medieval Homoeroticism

The early Middle Ages were once known as the “Dark Ages”, a disparaging term, which nevertheless is descriptive of the murky information we have about the saints: some of what is commonly believed about these saints is clearly mythical. Nevertheless, knowledge of the queer associations of saints like Patrick and Brigid of Ireland, George the dragon slayer and “Good King Wenceslas” is simple fun – and literal, historical truth or not, can provide useful material for reflection.

This period is also notable for the widespread use of specific liturgies for blessing same sex unions in Church. Even if these unions are not directly comparable with modern marriage, understanding of this recognition by the church deserves careful consideration, for the guidance it can offer the modern church on dealing with recognition for same sex relationships.

By the time of the High Middle Ages, influenced by increasing urbanization and greater familiarity with more homoerotic Muslim civilization, the earlier moderate opposition and grudging toleration of same sex love softened to a more open tolerance, with some remarkable monastic love letters with homoerotic imagery, more erotic poetry, and acceptance of open sexual relationships even for prominent bishops  and abbots – especially if they had suitable royal collections.

It was also a time of powerful women in the church, as abbesses who sometimes even had authority over their local bishops.

However, the increase in open sexual relationships among some monastic groups also led to a reaction, with some theologians starting to agitate for much harsher penalties against “sodomites”, especially among the clergy. Initially, these pleas for a harsher, anti-homosexual regime met with limited support – but bore fruit a couple of centuries later, with disastrous effects which were felt right through to the present day – and especially the twentieth century.

The Great Persecution

Symbolically, the great change can be seen as the martyrdom of Joan of Arc – martyred not for the Church, but by the Church, for reasons that combined charges of heresy with her cross-dressing. A combination of charges of heresy and “sodomy” were also the pretext for the persecution and trials of the Knights Templar – masking the naked greed of the secular and clerical powers which profited thereby. The same confusion of “sodomy” and heresy led to an expansion of the persecution from the Templars to wider group, and  also the expansion of the methods and geographic extent, culminating in the executions of thousands of alleged “sodomites” across many regions of Europe. This persecution was initially encouraged or conducted by the Inquisition, later by secular authorities alone – but conducted according to what the church had taught them was a religious justification. Even today, the belief that religion justifies homophobic violence is often given as a motivation by the perpetrators – and the fires that burned the sodomites of the fifteenth century had a tragic echo in the gay holocaust of the second world war.

Yet even at the height of the persecution, there was the paradox of a succession of  popes, who either had well-documented relationships with boys or men,  or commissioned frankly homoerotic art from renowned Renaissance artists, which continues to decorate Vatican architecture. This period exemplifies the continuing hypocrisy of an outwardly homophobic, internally.

Modern Martyrs, Modern Revival

The active persecution of sodomites by the Inquisition gradually gave way to secular prosecutions under civil law, with declining ferocity as the Renaissance gave way to the Enlightenment and more modern times (although executions continued until the nineteenth century). From this time on, theoretical condemnation of “sodomites” co-existed with increasing public recognition of some men who had sex with men, and records relating to queers in the church are less prominent than either earlier or later periods.  In the nineteenth century, Cardinal Newman’s request to be buried alongside Ambrose St John does not appear to have aroused any opposition.

In the twentieth century, the increasing visibility of homosexual men produced the horrifying backlash in Germany in the gay holocaust, with its echos of the medieval bonfires of heretics and sodomites – the modern gay martyrs.

Only after WWII did the Vatican begin to seriously address the question of homosexuality, with increasingly harsh judgements and attempts to silence theologians and pastors who questioned their doctrines and practice. Other denominations drove out existing gay or lesbian pastors, and refused ordination, or even church membership, to other openly gay or lesbian church members. However, these victims of church exclusion, who can be seen metaphorically as modern martyrs, martyred by the church for being true to their sexual identity,  refused to be silenced. Like St Sebastian before Emperor Maximilian, they found new ways to minister to the truth of homosexuality and Christianity.

Today, these early pioneers for queer inclusion in church have been joined by countless others, who work constantly at tasks large and small, to witness to the truth of our sexuality and gender identity, and to its compatibility with authentic Christianity. In effect, that includes all of who identify as both Christian, and simultaneously as lesbian, gay trans, or other  – and the women who refuse to accept the narrow confines of the gender roles church authorities attempt to place on us.

November 1st is the day the Church has set aside to celebrate All Saints – the recognition that sainthood is not only a matter of formally recognized and canonized saints, but is a calling to which we must all aspire. For queers in Church, it is especially a day for us to remember our modern heroes, who in facing and overcoming their attempted silencing are martyrs of the modern church – and that we, too, are called to martyrdom, in its literal sense: to bear witness, in our lives, to our truth.

Epilogue: All Saints

The Queer Family in the Book of Ruth

The story of Ruth and Naomi and their deep love has often been used to illustrate love between women in the Bible.  There is more to the book than that alone, for a queer reading. Although the book begins as the story of Ruth and Naomi, it ends as that of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, as Mona West makes clear in her chapter on Ruth for The Queer Bible Commentary, concluding with a reflection on its lesson for queer families – in all their variety.

With the strong public interest in the struggle for marriage equality and gay adoption, we often overlook the simple but important fact that not all queer families are imitations of conventional families, differing only in the minor detail of being headed by a couple of the same biological sex. We come in a multitude of forms – like the family I meet recently, comprising three men who have just celebrated 25 years of living as a mutually supportive and committed triple. This obviously does not fit with the modern conception of “traditional” marriage and family – but nor do the families of Jesus and his disciples in the New Testament, and nor does the family of Ruth, Naomi and Boaz, as we know it by the end of the book.

Continue reading The Queer Family in the Book of Ruth

Let Us Remember, for Nov 9th:

The cross-dressing saints of the Church.

From Queer Saints and Martyrs:

St Matrona / Babylas of Perge, Cross-dressing  Saint? 

St Matrona /Babylas of Perge is one of a number of female saints in the early church who dressed as men to be admitted to all-male monasteries. The stories and motives of these women are remote from our time, and ‘transvestite’, or cross – dressing, is not to be confused with ‘transgendered’. Still, whatever the full historic truth, it seems to me these are useful stories to hold on to as reminders of the important place of the transgendered, and differently gendered, in our midst. Many of us will remember how difficult and challenging was the process of recognising, and then confronting, our identities as lesbian or gay, particularly in the context of a hostile church. However difficult and challenging we may have found the process of honestly confronting our sexual identities, consider how much more challenging must be the process of confronting and negotiating honestly a full gender identity crisis. Their stories collectively also carry a sobering reminder of the differing regard given by society of the time to male and female lives – else why would women have sought out male monasteries, in spite of the risks and discomfort to themselves of their lives in disguise, if not expectation of some greater spiritual reward than in a female convent?

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Let Us Remember, for Nov 1st:

All Saints – including, potentially, ALL of us!

from Queer Saints and Martyrs:

Nov Ist : All (Gay) Saints

Are there gay saints? Some sources say clearly yes, listing numerous examples. Others dispute the idea, saying either that the examples quoted are not officially recognised, or denying that they were gay because we do not know that they were sexually active. Before discussing specifically LGBT or queer saints, consider a more general question. Who are the “Saints”, and why do we recognise them?

All Saints Albrecht  Dürer