The Story of the “Queer Saints and Martyrs”: Taking Shape

Ever since I began writing for the Queer Church, one of the key themes I have been exploring has been that of the place of LGBT men and women in Christian history – recognized and unrecognised saints, martyrs for the church, some who have  been martyred by the church directly or indirectly, and those who have achieved remarkable high office in the church, as popes, bishops or abbots in spite of clear homoerotic interests and activities.

As I have explored individuals and notable groups, I have been seeing the outline of a narrative thread underlying them, which I have been using to draw them together into what I hope will become a book for publication. The outline for the book I have previously published, as a synopsis, and as a reflection of the feast of All (Gay) Saints. I have now expanded this synopsis one level, which I will be posting in instalments over the coming week, under six main divisions. For a preview of these posts and the work in progress, follow the links to my  “Queer Saints and Martyrs” pages here at Queering the Church, and from them to the detailed posts on individuals and groups at my satellite site, “Queer Saints and Martyrs – and others”.

 

The best -known queer saints: Roman Lovers & ;Martyrs, Sergius and Bacchus.

This the outline for “Queer Saints and Martyrs”:

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Queer Saints & Martyrs: Summary

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 rape of Ganymede

 

 

(Note: This site is a  selective mirror of posts from my main site, Queering the Church, and some specialist satellite sites. Comments here have been disabled.  To place a comment, or to read the full range of posts and features of the main site, go to  the  corresponding post at Queer Saints & Martyrs)

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Sexual Abuse & Cover – ups: Echoes in Church History.

A Church Protecting its Own

Yesterday, I prepared two posts on apparently unrelated themes that have been preoccupying my mind for some time. at Open Tabernacle, I have a draft post on the Irish clerical abuse scandal scheduled for publication, while here at QTC I wrote about the little known and neglected history of the church’s active persecution of homosexuals during the Renaissance.  This morning, re- reading a little further into this history, I came across two details which, combining both stories, suddenly puts both issues and the connections between them, into sharp focus.

In the mid-fifteenth century in Venice, the emphasis shifted from simply convicting and executing “offenders” to actively seeking them out, with an array of paid officials instructed to comb the city in search of sodomites and also “boys who were patiente”. In the modern world, young boys would be seen as victims of abuse.  In Venice at that time, boys as young as ten to fifteen were seen as willing accomplices, and were equally subject to torture and punishment.   From 1424 on, the sentence prescribed for convicted boys aged from ten to fourteen was at least three months in jail, and twelve to twenty lashes.  Later, the punishments for boys who were passive partners received the same sentences as their older, active associates. Boys, like Men, were subjected to severe torture to extract their “confessions”, in trials where prosecutors were the judges, and where the church and  state, sharing between them the assets of those convicted, had a vested interest in securing guilty verdicts.

Saint Dominic Presiding Over an Auto_de_fé Pedro Berruguete 1475 Prado Museum

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Lest We Forget: The Ashes of our Martyrs

For Ash Wednesday, I reminded readers here that the season of Lent is also a “joyful” season, an aspect that should not be ignored.  We should never forget though, that it is also a solemn time, above all a time for repentance and renewal, individually and collectively.

So it was entirely appropriate and welcome ten years ago, that at the start of the season Pope John Paul spoke of the horrors that had been perpetrated by the church in the past, apologised for the evils it had done to .    and asked for forgiveness. This was important and welcome:  I do not wish to belittle it in any way.  However, there is an important category of offence which was omitted from the list, for which he did not apologise, and for which there has never been any apology: the persecution of “sodomites”.

For the first thousand years of its history, the Church was disapproving of homoerotic relationships, as it was of all sexual expression, but showed varying degrees of tolerance, culminating in what John Boswell described as a flowering of a gay sub-culture in the high medieval period.  During the 11th century,  Burchard, the Bishop of Worms in Germany,

classified homosexuality as a variety of fornication less serious than heterosexual adultery. He assigned penance for homosexual acts only to married men. In civil legislation regulating family life in the diocese of Worms there is no mention of homosexual behaviour

In 1059, the Lateran synod accepted all of the reforms for the church proposed by St Peter Damian – except for his proposal for harsher penalties against monks engaged in homosexual affairs.

All that changed within a few decades. In 1120, the Church Council of Nablus specified burning at the stake for homosexual acts.  Although this  penalty may not immediately have been applied, other harsh condemnations followed rapidly. In 1212, the death penalty for sodomy was specified in in France. Before long the execution of supposed “sodomites”, often by burning at the stake, but also by other harsh means, had become regular practice in many areas.

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