Category Archives: Christian

Anselm of Canterbury: Gay Bishop, Gay Protector. 21/04

Anselm, Archbishop of Canterbury from 1093 – 1109, is important for the evidence he represents that the hostility of some Christians to homoerotic relationships has not always been typical of the institutional church. He has two claims in particular to attention from modern gay and lesbian Catholics. First, he is one of a band of notable medieval clerics who although personally celibate, exhibited a clear homoerotic sensibility, whose affectionate letters to his band of intimate male friends contribute to what John Boswell has described as a “medieval flowering” of a gay subculture, which was not again equalled until the latter part of the twentieth century.    He reminds us also, that just as there was then a homoerotic culture  deeply embedded in the catholic clergy, exactly the same applies today, as Mark Jordan has clearly shown (“The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism “).
St Anselm

Read some of these letters in Boswell, or read then on-line at Rictor Norton’s Best Beloved brother, extracts from his book: My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries.  

However, he is also important as an early protector of gay men from the rising tide of intolerance that came to dominate the later medieval and renaissance periods, intolerance that persevered today, and is widely mistaken for something which is somehow inherent to the Christian faith.  

From the Calendar of LGBT Saints: (April 21):

The Council of London in 1102 wanted to enact ecclesiastical legislation which declared – for the first time in English history – that homosexual behaviour was a sin, and they recommended that offending laymen be imprisoned and clergymen be anathematized.
But Anselm as Archbishop of Canterbury prohibited the publication of their decree, advising the Council that homosexuality was widespread and few men were embarrassed by it or had even been aware it was a serious matter; he felt that although sodomites should not be admitted to the priesthood, confessors should take into account mitigating factors such as age and marital status before prescribing penance, and he advised counselling rather than punishment.

See Also:

The Medieval Flowering of Homoerotic Christianity
The Homoerotic Catholic Church


Boswell, John: Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century

Jordan,Mark D: The Silence of Sodom: Homosexuality in Modern Catholicism
Norton, Rictor: My Dear Boy: Gay Love Letters Through the Centuries.  

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Valentine’s Day: Same Sex Lovers in Church History

For St Valentine’s day,we should remember the same sex lovers (a surprising number of them) who feature in Scripture and in the history of the Catholic Church.  In the list below, I do not not claim that the relationships were necessarily sexual (although some of them most definitely were, but all are deserve attention by modern queer Christians. (For fuller assessments, follow the links).
SS Sergius & Bacchus, Gay lovers, Roman soldires, martyrs and saints.

Biblical Lovers

Right at the beginning, the Hebrew Bible opens with the greatest love story of them all – that of God for humankind. Chris Glaser (“Coming Out as Sacrament”) points out that at the most literal level, this can be seen as a same-sex relationship, as God is conventionally described with a male pronoun and Adam pictured as a man. However, even if we recognize that God is more properly pictured as omnigendered, the relevance of the idea is not diminished, and even enhanced. “Adam” is more properly seen in the earliest traditions as “ ‘adam“, that is humankind, and androgynous. We can therefore view both parties to this love relationship in whatever gender terms is most appropriate to us. The important point, which we really ought to remember, is that whoever we are, God’s love for us is unconditional, and is totally free of bias to any particular biological sex, gender role, or sexual orientation. This thought should sustain us, no matter how much we may sometimes feel condemned or rejected by the Church or by secular society.
Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, Glaser notes that the two longest love stories are those of same sex couples. The love of David for Jonathan “surpasses that for women”, and the words of Ruth to Naomi, although from one woman to another, are regularly used in liturgies for marriage ceremonies. The Song of Songs is not between a same sex couple (although some believe it may originally have been so. See a discussion at The Wild Reed), but is nevertheless worth consideration, for its frank celebration of physical, erotic love, without being tied to procreation or even to marriage. This is simple, joyous celebration of love on its own terms – while also standing as a metaphor for God’s love for God’s people, just as our love relationships can also have sacramental value, in mirroring God’s love.
In the New Testament, we have the celebrated example of Jesus and the Beloved Disciple, whoever he was (possibly, but not necessarily, John the Evangelist). It is unclear whether there was a physical dimension to this relationship – but some scholars believe there may have been, and there was once a popular tradition that the bridal couple in the wedding at Cana were precisely Jesus and his Beloved Disciple, John. Even if we reject this idea, we should remember the entirely orthodox idea that the Mass commemorates the wedding at Cana, as the marriage of Christ and his church. For half of all Catholics, this mystical marriage is certainly  male to male .
Martha and Mary are described as “sisters”, but this could be a euphemism. In the cultural context, they could well have been a lesbian couple. Equally, the Roman centurion and his “servant” probably included a sexual element in their relationship.

The Early Church

The early Christian Church honoured as saints several pairs of same sex couples. The Roman soldiers and martyrs Sergius and Bacchus are the best known, with Polyeuct and Nearchos another pair of military martyrs. Felicity and Perpetua are often mentioned as a corresponding pair of female martyrs.
Saints Galla and Benedicta were a devoted pair who lived in a 6th century Roman community of religious women. At about the same time, Symeon of Emessa and John were not martyrs, but hermits in Syria.  Theirs was not a sexual relationship, but it was clearly emotionally intimate, and was formally blessed by an abbot in what appears to have been a rite of adelphopoeisis, or “making brothers”.
This rite, formally recorded with specific liturgies for blessing in church, is an important reminder that for many centuries, the church regularly blessed same sex unions in church. (These rites still exist today, and can be easily adapted for modern blessing ceremonies). In addition to celebrating same sex unions in church as they were formed, the Church also recognized special unions at their dissolution in death.  Archaeological evidence from Macedonia shows many examples from the  4th to the 6th centuries of same sex couples who were buried in shared graves.
Also from about this period of the early church, we have a bishop and saint who celebrated homoerotic love in verse directed at his lover, Ausonius – St Paulinus of Nola.  In Ireland, there is some evidence that St Patrick may have taken a young (male) lover in later life, while St Brigid had her soulmate, Drogheda.

The Middle Ages.

As in the early church, there are notable examples of saints, bishops and abbots who are remembered for their literary output – addressed to the men they loved, either in verse or in letter form: Saint Aelred of Rievaulx wrote explicitly of the value of close spiritual friendship, and addressed intimate love letters to a series of special friends of his own. One notable example of this kind of intimate (but celibate) love between clerics was that of St Bernard of Clairvaulx, and Malachi, the Archbishop of Armagh, who  after death were buried in a shared grave. Alcuin of Tours also addressed love letters and poems to his own special friends, such as this one to Arno, the bishop at Salzburg:

Love has penetrated my heart with its flame,
And is ever rekindled with new warmth.
Neither sea nor land, hills nor forest,
nor even the Alps 
Can stand in its way or hinder it
From always licking at your inmost parts, good father…

Other notable saints and senior clerics who wrote love letters or erotic verse to their colleagues included Saint Anselm of CanterburyMarbod of RiennesArchbishop Baudri of Bourgeuil, a “Spanish Monk“,  Walafrid Strabo (c. 808-849) to the cleric Lutziger, Saint Notker Balbulus (c. 840-912), and Salamo (c. 860-920), and Egbert the monk, to Saint Boniface.
There are also others who are remembered not for their sanctity, but for their notoriety. It is said that in the early 11th century, the papal reign of Benedict IX became infamous for having “turned the Vatican into a male brothel”. Later in the 11th Century, under a reforming pope, Archbishop Ralph of Tours succeeded in having his lover John appointed as bishop of Orleans, even though the younger man was well known as a former bed-partner of many highly placed men in the Church and the royal court – including a previous archbishop, and also the king of France.
In the Western Church, there was a rite corresponding to the Eastern adelphopoeisis, known as the rite of “sworn brotherhood”, which Alan Bray describes in “The Friend”, especially from the medieval and later periods . This too has an echo in modern liturgies, for another term for the “sworn brother” was – “wedded brothers”.  Same sex “weddings” in Church are not newalthough the term then referred to a contract, not to marriage in the modern sense. (These “sworn brothers” did not necessarily include a sexual relationship, although some did, often in parallel with heterosexual marriages). One high profile example of these sworn brothers was that of the English king, Edward II, and Piers Galveston. (After his execution, Edward was for a time popularly venerated as a saint).
In addition to the practice of blessing same sex unions in Church, there is also abundant evidence of same sex couples who, like SS Bernard and Malachi, were buried in shared graves.  Bray describes many of these in the Western (especially the English) church, from the medieval period right up to the 19th century (Blessed John Henry Newman and St John Ambrose).

The Renaissance Paradox

With the persecution of “Sodomites” by the Inquisition and the secular authorities at their instigation, it is not surprising that there were fewer accounts of homoerotic relationships, and less literary celebration of same sex love. However, this does not mean that they did not occur. For those with sufficient power or influence in the church, male sexual relationships continued, at the highest level.  Pope Julius III was so infatuated with a young street urchin he fell in love with, that he appointed the youngster a cardinal at the grand age of 17 – in spite of a notable lack of any appropriate qualifications whatever. Pope Paul II is said to have died of a stroke – while being sodomized by a page boy. (For more on the gay popes, see “Gay Popes, Papal Sodomites“).

The Modern Period

The best known same sex relationship among the modern clergy is that of Blessed John Henry Newman and his beloved Ambrose St John, who were famously buried in a shared grave in Birmingham Oratory. Less well known are two examples of nineteenth century women from the United States. Phebe Ann Coffin Hannaford, possibly the first woman since ancient times to be ordained in a major Christian denomination, and lived openly with her partner Anne Miles. Saint Vida Scudder, who lived in a clearly lesbian relationship with her partner Florence Converse, is recognized as a saint by the American Episcopal Church.
In the twentieth and twenty first centuries, it has become possible for countless male and female couples to declare their loves openly, and even to have them formally recognized in church – as full marriages, or as blessing of unions. I’m not going to attempt to list them, here. While we celebrate the continuing advances to marriage equality, in church and in secular society, let us also recognize and honour all those same – sex couples who have preceded us in loving partnerships – whether sexual or celibate
[Updated January 2015]
Recommended Books
Bray, Alan: The Friend
Glaser, Chris: Coming Out as Sacrament

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Jan 20th: Not Dead Yet: St Sebastian as Role Model

Writing about St Joan of Arc, I observed that she carries a particular importance for us as gay men, lesbians and transsexuals in the church, as her martyrdom at the hands of church authorities can be seen as a powerful metaphor for the persecution we receive from parts of the church, just for being honest about ourselves, for refusing to renounce our God-given identity. I’ve been thinking further along these lines, and in fact all the Christian martyrs can similarly seen as role models – although the others were not typically executed by the church itself. One martyr in particular has been closely identified as a gay (male) icon – St Sebastian.

This is strictly speaking inappropriate, because there is not anything about Sebastian or his martyrdom that is particularly gay . The main reason quite frankly, that he has acquired this cult status is that painters for centuries have made striking images of his martyrdom, featuring half naked, desirable young men pierced with arrows: soft porn masquerading as inspirational religious art. ( The Independent newspaper has an excellent analysis, still available on-line, on just how this association developed through the art works.) Now, I have no problem with gay men enjoying pictures of St Sebastian, but have had some trouble seeing him as a specifically gay saint. However, I have come across one particular painting, quite different from the original, which immediately put me in mind of a concept I have written about before as a possible model for us in negotiating a proper relationship with the church. Here’s the picture:
“St Sebastian and the Emperor Maximien Hercules 

This is how I wrote about his death, in an earlier post:

Continue reading Jan 20th: Not Dead Yet: St Sebastian as Role Model

Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzus: Doctors of the Church

Two of the most notable saints deserving special attention by queer Christians are St Basil the Great, Bishop of Caesarea in Cappadocia, and his dear friend St Gregory “the theologian”, Bishop of  Nazianzus, whose relationship was of such great intimacy that they are frequently described as having shared “one soul in two bodies”. Today, January 2nd, the Church celebrates their joint feast day.

 “Then not only did I feel full of veneration for my great Basil because of the seriousness of his morals and the maturity and wisdom of his speeches, but he induced others who did not yet know him to be like him…. The same eagerness for knowledge motivated us…. This was our competition: not who was first but who allowed the other to be first. It seemed as if we had one soul in two bodies”

(The phrase was used by Gregory  himself, after the death of his friend Basil, and has been regularly repeated across the sixteen centuries since by many others,  including Pope Benedict).

Both are regarded by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Churches as Doctors of the Faith, and the Eastern Orthodox churches  have further honoured them, together with John Chrysostom, with the title “Great Hierarch”.

Continue reading Saints Basil and Gregory Nazianzus: Doctors of the Church

Rosa Bonheur: Cross-dressing painter honored “androgyne Christ”

Rosa Bonheur, the most famous female painter of the 19th century, was a queer cross-dresser who honored what she called the “androgyne Christ.” She had two consecutive long-term relationships with women. She died on this date (May 25) in 1899.

Born in France in 1822, Bonheur received much acclaim in her lifetime for her paintings of animals. In recent years she has been celebrated as a queer pioneer, feminist icon, and role model for the LGBT community. Her achievements grew out of an unusual religious upbringing in the proto-feminist Saint-Simonian sect, and the queer Christian ideals that she expressed in adulthood. Bonheur’s gender-bending lifestyle has been covered extensively by scholars, but her spirituality has received much less attention.

Her parents raised her in Saint-Simonianism, a French utopian Christian-socialist movement that advocated equality for women and prophesied the coming of a female messiah. Her father was an artist and an ardent apostle for the Saint-Simonian religion. Bonheur writes a whole chapter about growing up as a Saint-Simonian in the book “Rosa Bonheur: The Artist’s (Auto)biography,” which she wrote with her companion Anna Klumpke.

The Saint-Simonian concept of gender equality paved the way for Bonheur’s father to train her as a painter… and for her own defiance of gender norms. As she put it, “To his doctrines I owe my great and glorious ambition for the sex to which I proudly belong and whose independence I shall defend until my dying day.”

read more:  Jesus in Love Blog

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St Patrick, Gay Role Model?

So why should we see St Paddy as a gay icon?

In a notable book on Irish gay history (“Terrible Queer Creatures”) Brian Lacey presents some evidence that Patrick may have had a long term intimate relationship with a man:
“St. Patrick himself may have had a relationship tinged with homoeroticism. Tirechan, a late seventh century cleric who wrote about St. Patrick, tells the story of a man Patrick visited and converted to Christianity, who had a son to whom Patrick took a strong liking. Tirechan wrote that “he gave him the name Benignus, because he took Patrick’s feet between his hands and would not sleep with his father and mother, but wept unless he would be allowed to sleep with Patrick.” Patrick baptized the boy and made him his close lifelong companion, so much so that Benignus succeeded Patrick as bishop of Armagh.”
Among the few verifiable facts of Patrick’s life, are that when he was about 16, he was captured from his home and taken as a slave to Ireland, where he lived for six years before escaping and returning to his family. After becoming a cleric, he returned to northern and western Ireland as an ordained bishop, but little is known about the places where he worked. By the seventh century, he had already come to be revered as the patron saint of Ireland.
It is his return to his place of hardship and slavery that should interest LGBT Catholics. Somewhere, I read a report* that after his escape from slavery and return to Ireland, he supported himself by working for a time as a prostitute  – yes, good old Patrick is said to have sold sexual favours.
Does this sound far fetched? Not if you consider the historical realities of the time.  Patrick’s home was in Roman Britain. throughout the Empire, prostitution was an entirely acceptable way for men or women in desperate circumstances to make a living. Consider also his likely experience as a slave.  In both Roman and Greek society, as well as elsewhere, it was assumed that one of the duties of a slave, particularly if young or attractive, was to provide sexual services on demand.  Ireland was not under Roman rule, but there is no reason to suppose that the conditions of slavery were notably different.  (Lacy shows in his book that in pre-christian Ireland same sex relationships were accepted and respected.)
There is another reason, though why we as queer Catholics should look to Patrick as a role model, regardless of his own sexual history, a reason which goes to the heart of his mission.
In “Faith Beyond Resentment”,  theologian James Alison observes that in the Gospel story of the healing of the man possessed by demons, Jesus instruction to the man after healing was to “Go home,” that is, back to the community which had tormented and rejected him, back to his persecutors.
This is what Patrick did.  Having escaped from slavery and returned to his original home, he responded to what he saw as a call to return to the country of his captivity, to go back to the land of his tormentors – and convert them.
So he did, and so, I think, must we.  Tormented and persecuted we have sometimes (but not always) been by the Catholic Church. Somehow, though, we must find a way to move beyond the anger that provokes, to set aside the resentment, and to “go home to” the church. Thereby we will contribute to its own conversion.

*  In a comment to an earlier posting of this piece, theologian JohnMcNeill has said that he thinks the book with this story was “How The Irish Saved Civilization”, by Thomas Cahill. “He claims that Patrick paid for his passage back to Ireland by servicing the sailors on the boat.”


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The Nun Who Became a Soldier, Fought in the Spanish Army

Catalina de Erauso, Spanish-Mexican soldier and Catholic nun; also known as ‘La Monja Alfrez’ (The Second Lieutenant Nun)

Catalina de Erauso (1592? – 1650), soldier and nun

Catalina de Erauso was daughter and sister of soldiers from the city of San Sebastián in Spain. Her father was Miguel de Erauso and her mother María Pérez de Gallárraga y Arce. She was expected to become a nun but abandoned the nunnery after a beating at the age of fifteen, just before she was to take her vows. She had not ever seen a street, having entered the convent at the age of four .

She dressed as a man, calling herself “Francisco de Loyola”, and left on a long journey from San Sebastian to Valladolid. From there she visited Bilbao, where she signed up on a ship with the assistance of other Basques. She reached Spanish America and enlisted as a soldier in Chile under the nameAlonso Díaz Ramírez de Guzmán. She served under several captains in the Arauco War, including her own brother, who never recognized her.

After one fight in which she killed a man and was wounded fatally, she revealed her sex in a deathbed confession. She however survived after four months of convalescence and left for Guamanga.

To escape yet another incident, she confessed her sex to the bishop, Fray Agustín de Carvajal. Induced by him she entered a convent and her story spread across the ocean. In 1620, the archbishop of Lima called her. In 1624, she arrived in Spain, having changed ship after another fight.

She went to Rome and toured Italy, where she eventually achieved such a level of fame that she was granted a special dispensation by Pope Urban VIIIto wear men’s clothing.

Her portrait by Francesco Crescenzio is lost. Back in Spain, Francisco Pacheco (Velázquez‘s father-in-law) painted her in 1630.

She again left Spain in 1645, this time for New Spain in the fleet of Pedro de Ursua, where she became a mule driver on the road from Veracruz. In New Spain she used the name Antonio de Erauso.


She died in Cuetlaxtla, New Spain in 1650.

Catalina de Erauso, the Lieutentant Nun

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Feb 25th: Saint Walburga, Abbess (710 – 779)

Today is the feast of the early English saint, Walburga, who entered the abbey of Wimbourne aged just eleven, then as a young sister was sent to accompany her uncle St Boniface to Germany, where they founded the “double monastery” of Heidenheim.
Read the full report , “Feb 25th, St Walburga, Missionary, Abbess,” at National Catholic Reporter. As you do so, pay close attention:  the text reminds us of so much that we have forgotten about the real history of women in the Church.

Continue reading Feb 25th: Saint Walburga, Abbess (710 – 779)

Catharina Margaretha Linck, Executed for Sodomy

In the tragic history of executions for “sodomy”, most trials and executions were of men. In the popular mind, the word today is associated primarily with male anal sex, but this has not always been so. In the original biblical texts, the “sin of Sodom” had nothing to do with sex at all, but referred rather to excessive fondness for luxury, over-indulgence, and a failure to care for travelers and the poor. When in the Middle Ages it began to be associated with sexual sin, it applied to any form of sexual actions that were considered unnatural, including homosexual acts, masturbation, oral sex, heterosexual anal intercourse, even heterosexual intercourse not in the missionary position – and lesbian sex.

Many courts and legislative bodies since then have debated whether sodomy laws do in fact apply to women, with widely differing conclusions. In some cases, the conclusion was that they did – especially in those cases where one of the woman dresses and lived as a man, which provoked particular popular hostility.

At Jesus in Love, Kittredge Cherry has included in her post for Ash Wednesday some notes about the last lesbian executed for Sodomy in Europe, Catherine Linck.

Linck-1 by Elke Steiner500 px

In the image at the top of this post, German artist Elke R. Steinerillustrates the last known execution for lesbianism in Europe. Born in 1694, Catharina Margaretha Linck lived her life as a man under the name Anastasius. She was beheaded for sodomy on Nov. 8, 1721 in Halberstadt in present-day Germany. Linck worked at various times as a soldier, textile worker and a wandering prophet with the Pietists. She married a woman in 1717. Her mother-in-law reported her to authorities, who convicted her of sodomy with a “lifeless instrument,” wearing men’s clothes and multiple baptisms. The subject is grim, but Steiner adds an empowering statement: “But even were I to be done away with, those who are like me would remain.”

Steiner’s work is based on Angela Steidele’s book “In Männerkleidern. Das verwegene Leben der Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Lagrantinus Rosenstengel, hingerichtet 1721.” Biographie und Dokumentation. Cologne: Böhlau, 2004. (“In Men’s Clothes: The Remarkable Life of Catharina Margaretha Linck alias Anastasius Rosenstengel, Executed 1721.”)

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