The Story of Our Queer Saints & Martyrs (and others)

Ever since I started writing at Queering The Church, I have tried to share with you some information about our gay, lesbian and trans saints and martyrs, which I think is one of the great unknown stories of Church a and LGBT history. Ever since Stonewall, there has been a recognition that so much of the queer past has been hidden from history, with a great deal of work done to uncover this history and bring it into the light of day. In exactly the same way, and more dangerously, our history in the church has also been hidden. The pioneering work of scholars like John Boswell (and before him, Vern Bullough) has done a great deal to open this history up for exposure, but too often it remains buried in academic treatises which are valuable, but possibly inaccessible or intimidating to a general reader.

 

 

All Saints

 

 

And so I have attempted to select small snippets from history, drawn from sources like Boswell, and Paul Halsall’s Calendar of LGBT Saints, and post them here as easily digestible, bit -sized pieces. I have also drawn (increasingly) on the parallel series developed by my colleague Kittredge Cherry at Jesus in Love Blog. Up to now, most of my posts have been scheduled (except where I slipped up and simply forgot) to appear on the saints’ feast days. This seemed appropriate, and is – but leaves only a motley, somewhat incoherent collection of posts which are unrelated except in their general theme – a selection of people of siginificance in Church history, who happen to have some queer connection or importance.

I know that there is more to it. As I have worked with these  stories, and with the broader history of sexual minorities in the Christian Church (and churches), I have come to see that when they are viewed not separately, but together, in thematic and roughly chronological groups, they tell us much more: collectively, they offer a simple way of illustrating the way in which the place of queer people in the Church has shifted dramatically over the centuries, including periods of simple inclusion, reluctant tolerance, high esteem, active and horrifying persecution and neglect. The conclusion of this story, seen through the lens of history and mindful of its reflections, I believe carries a powerful and inspiring lesson for all of us who are queer in the church in the modern world.

While I will continue to feature single saints, martyrs and modern heroes on their appropriate saints’ days (where I remember, or Kittredge reminds me), I will now be starting to do more. I will now begin to tie together these disparate tales into a coherent story, which I aim to tease out (eventually) into a full -length book for conventional publication. This has been an intention for some months now, but I have found it difficult to find  a way to manage the process and structure to store the output. I have decided to do that right here, with you my readers, and share as I go. I hope you will offer feedback as I go.

My procedure will be to begin with a simple synopsis of the whole story as I see it – recognizing where necessary the gaps in my knowledge, and including where possible links to material that has already been written. As I proceed, I will flesh out the material section by section, sometimes re-writing ,  expanding or correcting earlier material as my knowledge and understanding improves. In this way, the work will slowly expand from a 2 page synopsis with copious links, to a complete text. You, my readers, get to watch and monitor the full gestation. (You can watch this baby grow either at Queering the Church, or at my specialist site, “Queer Saints and Martyrs”, where later on getting an overall picture might become easier than here.

The title for today’s post is precisely the working title that I am using to guide myself as I go, and has been very carefully chosen.

“Story” because that is how I want it to read – easily, as an unfolding story, and not as a complex academic treatise bogged down in long discussions over academic minutiae;

“Queer”, not gay, lesbian, or LGBT(QI…) because I do not want to be trapped by narrow definitions over who does or does not qualify for inclusion. To me, “queer” includes all sexual minorities (in the Catholic church, as I have written before, that includes all of us, although I will not be taking that idea quite to the logical conclusion in this case. I will quite specifically include some of the powerful women in church history, about whose sexual identities we may have no knowledge – but who by virtue of defying and bursting out of the confining gender expectations of their day, deserve consideration.

Martyrs, because the concept has an important triple meaning, which gives them special relevance for the modern world. Martyrs are those who bear witness, although the popular mind thinks only of those who bore witness by giving up their lives for the church. I will expand the concept to consider also those (like Joan of Arc) who bore witness to the truth of their own lives, by suffering death by the church. Then, in the modern world, we have the important examples of those who have been “martyred” by the church not literally, but figuratively, by being denied the opportunity to minister or to publish – and have borne witness by finding ways to continue doing so regardless. There are also many others, outside the formal church, who in their lives have “borne witness” for the queer community – and lost their lives for it.

Finally, a catch-all to allow me to discuss some “others”, that I find fascinating, but cold not possibly be considered “saints”, such as those who had undeniable  sexual relationships with men, but still contrived to reach high office as abbots, bishops or popes. I also want to consider some of those who are definitely recognised as saints, but are generally seen by the queer Christian community as enemy, not heroes – but whose stories may have something useful to tell us.  There will also be a prologue (or prequel) to look at the period “before Christianity” – a period for which it is difficult to apply the Christian epithet “saint”, but which it will be fun (and instructive) to consider.

That’s the plan (for now. Some things will certainly change as I go). First instalment, which I will begin writing immediately to post later tonight, will be the synopsis.  Tell me what you think.

 

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