Symbolically, the great change can be seen as the martyrdom of Joan of Arc – martyred not for the Church, but by the Church, for reasons that combined charges of heresy with her cross-dressing. A combination of charges of heresy and “sodomy” were also the pretext for the persecution and trials of the Knights Templar- masking the naked greed of the secular and clerical powers which profited thereby. The same confusion of “sodomy” and heresy led to an expansion of the persecution from the Templars to wider group, and also the expansion of the methods and geographic extent, culminating in the executions of thousands of alleged “sodomites” across many regions of Europe. This persecution was initially encouraged or conducted by the Inquisition, later by secular authorities alone – but conducted according to what the church had taught them was a religious justification. Even today, the belief that religion justifies homophobic violence is often given as a motivation by the perpetrators – and the fires that burned the sodomites of the fifteenth century had a tragic echo in the gay holocaust of the second world war (“Remember the Ashes of our Martyrs“)
This vicious homophobia was even exported by the expanding colonial empires, introducing intolerance to many regions of the world where homoeroticism had previously been tolerated, accepted as entirely natural, or even celebrated as bringing particular spiritual gifts.
Yet even at the height of the persecution, there was the paradox of a succession of popes, who either had well-documented relationships with boys or men (Paul II, Julius III), or commissioned frankly homoerotic art from renowned Renaissance artists, which continues to decorate Vatican architecture (Sixtus IV, Julius II). This period exemplifies the continuing hypocrisy of an outwardly homophobic, internally homoerotic Catholic Church.)
One thought on “4. The Great Persecution: Martyred By the Church”