While away the last few days, I missed the opportunity to write about the feast of SS Sergius and Bacchus, and sadly lacked the foresight to post in advance. Now, both Jayden Cameron and Michael Bayley have on any case done the job for me, with excellent posts on the topic. Read them at Gay Mystic and The Wild Reed. So instead of writing about their lives or importance, I will just share an anecdote about my personal involvement with them.
I first heard about these legendary gay saints over 5 years ago, shortly before I started attending the Soho LGBT Masses. I was astonished that there might have been such people as gay saints, and took careful note. Some time later, I was in the vicinity of Westminster Cathedral, and thought it might be an opportunity to do some simple research. I went into the Catholic bookshop outside the cathedral, and sought out a couple of comprehensive books of saints. One listed the two men and their story (without reference to their relationship) and their feast date. The other gave the dates, but included a disclaimer to the effect “Their cult was suppressed in 1969”. This was the first point of uncertainty I found about them: their status as saints was unclear. Later I learnt that this was not unusual: until the consolidation of papal power in the 11 /12 century, saints were created by popular recognition, not by the formal process we know today. Sergius & Bacchus were not the only saints removed at the time: there was a wholesale clearout. Still, whether deliberate or not, this loss of recognition as saints seemed to symbolise for me how lesbian and gay lives have been written out of church history.
Some months later, I faced a period of extreme uncertainty and anxiety in my life. I had ended my first year teaching in the UK without having my contract renewed, or securing a new appointment. With my employment ended, so too was my work permit, and my legal right to remain in the country where I was convinced I needed to be. I initially stayed on here as long as I dared, continuing a fruitless search for fresh work, before facing the obvious fact that to avoid getting into permanent trouble with the UK immigration authorities, I would have no choice but to return to South Africa. I decided to do so, but then to attempt to secure a new placement from January and to begin all over again. So I began the process of wrapping up my life, selling or disposing of much of the possessions I had acquired over the previous 13 months.
What I did not get rid of, was books. With plenty of time on my hands, I had the opportunity to read, and to reread. One book that I started to reread, was John Boswell on Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe, with his telling of the story of Sergius & Bacchus. I started wondering about their feast day, and looked it up: October 7th, exactly the day on which I was reading about them.
10 days later, after long weeks of attempting to find a new mathematics teaching post without securing so much as an interview, I suddenly had a call to attend an interview on the Friday of that week, the last school day before my flight out. I attended the interview and delivered a demonstration lesson at Wimbledon College, a Jesuit school. Before my train home even reached Waterloo station, I received a phone call offering me a post with the one school in the country that, with my interest in Ignatian spirituality, was the one school in the country where I most wanted to work.
I stuck to my original intention of going back to South Africa for the two months before Christmas and the start of the new employment in the New Year. While away, I was able to sort out the required work permit, and to spend very welcome time with family and old friends. I still had plenty of time, though, for reading, reflection, study and prayer. With the help of an excellent reading list suggested by a Jesuit friend, and copies of some of the books suggested, I spent a full week on a private silent retreat during which I began more extensive investigations of the Scriptural and theological basis for the traditional opposition to same gender relationships. I came out of this retreat clearer than ever in my mind that learning more about faith and sexuality was not just an interest, but something that at a deep level I really needed to do.
In telling the story of Sergius & Bacchus and their feast day, and that of how my employment difficulties ended so unexpectedly, I do not wish to claim any causal or supernatural connection. But for me, the simple fact of two extraordinary events so close together in time, has them firmly embedded in my memory. Taken together, they began a journey that continued and developed further, culminating this year with the start of “Queering the Church“.
- GLBT History Month (in Church): Queer Lovers in Church History (Queering the Church)
- Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus, Jan 9th (Queering the Church)
- Nov 1st: All (Gay) Saints (Queering the Church)
- Gay Saints & Lovers: Sergius and Bacchus (Jesus in Love Blog)
- Sergius and Bacchus: Martyrs, Saints, Lovers (The Wild Reed)
- Feast Day of Gay Saints October 7 (Gay Mystic)