Gay Lovers in Church History


SS Sergius & Bacchus, Gay lovers, Roman soldires, martyrs and saints.
SS Sergius & Bacchus: Gay lovers, Roman soldiers, martyrs and saints.

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As LGBT Catholics, it is important to recognize that our counterparts have featured strongly in Church history, although modern bowdlerized versions thereof have airbrushed us out.  To redevelop a sense of our rightful place in the church, it is important that we recover and take ownership of this history.From a range of sources, I am assembling a partial roll call of same sex lovers (not necessarily genital, but certainly intimate) in the history of the Catholic Church.  There are many others. These are the ones I know:

DavidJohnathan (10th /11th Cent BC)

david_and_jonathan_icon The story of David and Johnathan is well known from the Hebrew bible.  It is not explicitly stated that there was a sexual relationship between them but the passionate language  is certainly that of lovers.

“And it came to pass, when he had made an end of speaking unto Saul, that the soulof Jonathan was knit with the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. And Saul took him that day, and would let him go no more home to his father’s house. Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. “

For a full exposition, see the  invaluable “Lesbian and Gay Catholic Handbook”

Asher & Caleh.

Asher was a son of Solomon, Caleh a shepherd.  By some accounts these were the two lovers in the frankly erotic love poem, the “Song of Songs”, widely used as a metaphor for the love between God and humanity.   Usually presented as conventional heterosexual love, there is increasing recognition that the lovers were probably both men.

A translation by Dr Paul R Johnson directly from early texts includes the frankly homoerotic

How delightful you are Caleh,
My lover-man, my other half.
Your pleasing masculine love is better than wine.
The smell of your body is better than perfume.
Your moustache is waxed with honeycomb.
Honey and milk are under your tongue.
The scent of your clothing is like the smell of Lebanon.”

A review of this book, posted on the Wild Reed, notes that:

“It gets to the heart of the question of whether the Hebrews and early Christians were fundamentally homophobic, or whether, as John Boswell has maintained, homophobia was a later addition. Johnson has consulted with many Hebrew scholars, who reluctantly concede the validity of his revolutionary word-for-word translation.”

The “Song of Songs” was recommended to me by a retreat director early in  the most important, totally profound, retreat I have ever undertaken.  She made no mention of gender in the recommendation, but I immediately interpreted the texts in same -sex terms.  I believe that such reflections on this book contributed  significantly to the powerful  retreat experience that followed.  I strongly urge my male readers in particular to read and pray over this marvelous homoerotic love poem.

RuthNaomi

Naomi was Ruth’s mother-in-law. Some people argue that there was also a lesbian relationship between them (which is not necessarily contradicted by the legal relationship).  What really matters though, is the sheer quality of the devotion. Whether this was in any way physical, or purely emotional, is no the point. Theirs is an inspirational story of devotion and loyalty overcoming enormous difficulties fro women, which many women in our day still find helpful.  See the discussion at   Ruth & Naomi: Female Loyalty

Jesus John, the Beloved Disciple:

We cannot know precisely the nature of this relationship, but it was clearly a close one.  some people find the mere suggestion that this was a sexually intimate one positively offensive; at least one reputable biblical scholar (Kevin Jennings, in “The Man Jesus Loved” argues that it was indeed so).  I find the idea certainly plausible without being offensive, but also irrelevant.  There are other reasons for accepting that Jesus was at least gay – affirming, and that John represents a good role model.  See  “St John the Evangelist, the “Beloved Disciple”

Martha Mary – Described in the New Testament as ‘sisters’, but this may have been a euphemism for lesbian lovers.

Philip and Bartholomew:  Included in the Apostles, frequently named in the early liturgies of same-sex union.

Peter and Paul: Primary apostles, also frequently named in the early liturgies of same-sex union.

The Roman Centurion and his “pais” (= slave/lover).

John Finch and Thomas Baines, buried together in Christ’s College Chapel, Cambridge.  17th Century.

Euodia and Syntyche of Phillippi: a missionary couple active in the early church (?), mentioned in St. Paul’s letter to the Philippians (4:2-3)

Tryphaena and Tryphosa: a missionary couple active in the early church (?), mentioned in in Rom 16

Perpetua and Felicitas:

Paul and Timothy:

Tychicus and Onesimus:

Zenas and Apollos:

Polyeuct and Nearchos: third-century Roman soldiers who became saints. Their story is similar to that of Sergius and bBacchus, but not as  well-known.  Read it at Polyeuct & Nearchos: Roman Soldiers, Lovers, Martyrs

Faustinos and Donatos: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  4th century

Posidonia, and Pancharia: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  4th to 5th century.

Kyriakos and Nikandros: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  4th to 5th century.

SS Sergius & Bacchus: Roman soldiers, gay lovers, & martyrs are both the best known lovers, and the best known saints, in gay church history. They are often adopted as symbols for gay Christian groups, and a wide range of images are commonly reproduced.  (see the picture above) .  Read the story at Sergius & Bcchus: Roman Soldiers, Lovers, Martyrs

Gourasios and Konstantios: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  4th to 6th century.

Euodiana and Dorothea: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  5th century.

Martyrios, presbyter, and Demetrios, lector: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia.  5th to 6th century.

Eudoxios, presbyter, and of the sinner John, deacon: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia.  5th to 6th century.

Droseria and Eudoxia: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia.  5th to 6th century.

Athanasios and Chryseros: buried together at Edessa, in Macedonia.  5th to 6th century.

Alexandra and Glukeria: buried together at Phillippi, in Macedonia.  6th century

St Patrick of Ireland:  after his escape from early slavery, Patrick worked for time as a male prostitute. A recent history of Irish homosexuality suggests that he may have taken a male lover in later life.

SS Symeon of Emessa and John:  This pair of seventh century lovers met while travelling together on pilgrimage.  They both decided to abandon their families for each other and enter a monastery together.  They were tonsured together, and underwent a joint blessing by the Abbot, which appears to have been the rite of   “adelphopoiia” (rite of same sex union, extensively researched by John Boswell.)  Leaving the Monastery, they lived together as hermits for nearly 30 years before parting.  This does not seem to have been a sexual relationship  (not unusual for religious married couples at the time), but it was clearly a committed, emotionally intimate, long-lasting prtnership blessed by the church.

Dicul and Maelodran the wright:  buried together in the church at Delgany, County Wicklow.

Ultan and Dubthach: buried together in the church at Termonfechin, County Louth, near Drogheda.

John Bloxham and John Wyndham: buried together in Merton College Chapel, Oxford.  14th Century.

King Edward II and Piers Galveston:  well known as gay lovers, their relationship as ‘sworn brothers’ was recognised by the church.

William NevilleJohn Neville:  English knights, buried together in Galata, near Constantinople 14th Century

Nicholas Molyneux and John Winters: made a compact of ‘sworn brotherhood, made in the church of St Martin of Harfleur. 15th century.

John Finch and Thomas Baines buried together in Christ’s College Chapel, Cambridge.  17th Century.

Fulke GrevilleSir Phillip Sidney: the joint monument Greville planned for himself and Sidney in St Paul’s cathedral was never built.  But the simple intention alone indicates the natrure of the relationship, as also its recognition by the church.

Cardinal John Henry Newman and Fr. Ambrose St.John: buried together, 19th C.

4 Responses to “Gay Lovers in Church History”

  1. KittKatt Says:

    Wow, it seems to me that you have really improved and expanded this post! I keep returning to it again and again as a reference, and it just keeps getting better. Thanks and happy holidays.

    • Terence@queerchurch Says:

      Thanks, Kitt. As with all these back pages, my intention has always been to keep returning and refining, prompted by new information or corrections received, until they become a solid and reliable resource, suitalbe for use exactly as you seem to be doing.

      I’ve not done enough of this revisiting so far, but I hope to do more with my planned improvements for the New Year. Happy Holidays to you – and also a blessed Christmas.

  2. KittKatt Says:

    Do we dare consider adding Jesus and the Beloved Disciple?

    • Terence@queerchurch Says:

      Right, Kitt. The feast day is Dec 27th, so there will be a discussion coming up on a dedicated post. Your question has reminded me to add a summary of the post to the Lovers page. At teh same time, I will update some other pairs where I now know more.


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