Oscar Wilde, Queer Martyr

“Arrest of Oscar Wilde at the Cadogan Hotel” by McDermott & McGough (from “The Stations of Oscar Wilde to Reading Gaol”)

Oscar Wilde is obviously extremely well-known and celebrated as gay, and remembered for his incarceration in Reading Gaol, but his reflections on religious faith are not, even among LGBT Christians. A few years ago, there were some news reports about a Catholic connection, after the Vatican official newspaper L’Osservatore Romano ran a glowing review on a new biography about Wilde. Those reports rather focused on his deathbed conversion to Catholicism, largely ignoring his religious thinking during his prior life as an Anglican. L’Osservatore did however, pay tribute to the strong moral thread running through his writing:

In an article headlined “When Oscar Wilde met Pius IX”, Monda wrote that Wilde was not “just a non-conformist who loved to shock the conservative society of Victorian England”; rather he was “a man who behind a mask of amorality asked himself what was just and what was mistaken, what was true and what was false”.

“Wilde was a man of great, intense feelings, who behind the lightness of his writing, behind a mask of frivolity or cynicism, hid a deep knowledge of the mysterious value of life,” he said.


At Qspirit, Kittredge Cherry has a new post in her LGBT saints series about a new public art installation: the Oscar Wilde Temple, opening in New York, that draws attention to both his sexuality and his spirituality.  Noting that

….while in prison for homosexuality, Wilde wrote that Christ “took the entire world of the inarticulate, the voiceless world of pain, as his kingdom, and made of himself its external mouthpiece


Cherry continues with

A temple devoted to Oscar Wilde is not as odd as it may sound. Although he is better known as a forerunner of modern LGBTQ activism, the flamboyant and witty Wilde was also a spiritual seeker.  He loved church rituals and took Christ seriously, especially during and after prison. He identified with Jesus as a persecuted rebel artist with an individual vision, writing, “Christ’s place indeed is with the poets.”

The Oscar Wilde Temple is conceived as “a welcoming secular space,” but it is located in the Church of the Village, a progressive United Methodist Church. A chapel there is being transformed into a Victorian-era environment with devotional-style images of Wilde and contemporary martyrs of homophobia. It was created by the artists David McDermott and Peter McGough.

(People in the UK will be able to see the installation when it travels to London in 2018).

The post at QSpirit has much more background on Wilde’s involvement with the Catholic Church, which was much more than just the “deathbed conversion”.

He was baptized as an infant into the Anglican church. When he was four or five years old, his mother arranged for a secret second baptism into the Catholic church, helping establish a lifelong conflict between the two faith traditions. His whole life can be seen as “a long and difficult conversion to the Roman Catholic Church,” according to an article by Catholic scholar Andrew McCracken.

There’s also more, about people honoured in the installation at a “secondary altar” for people with HIV/Aids, and more contemporary people such as Alan Turing, who were like Wilde, martyred by homophobia. Read the full post here.

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