Queer Saints 2. The Early Christians: Saints and Martyrs for the Church

The cultural context of the early church was one where Christians were political and even social outcasts, in a society of a bewildering range of attitudes to sexuality, ranging from substantial sexual licence for Roman citizens, to negligible freedom of sexual choice for slaves, to sexual abstemiousness for those influenced by Greek stoicism.

The stories of queer saints that come down to us include those of pairs of martyred Roman soldiers and lovers, martyred Roman women, bishops who wrote skilled erotic poems, and (especially in the Eastern regions) a number of transwomen, cross-dressing monks who were  biologically female, but lived as men in male monasteries. .

Felicity and Perpetua (d. 203), a Roman woman and her devoted slave, who were martyred together, and whose names used to feature amongst the saints listed in the Eucharistic Prayer of the Catholic Mass.

Polyeuct and Nearchos (d. circa 250), two Roman soldiers and lovers, martyred together for their Christian faith.

Sergius and Bacchus (d. 303), like Polyeuct and Nearchos, these were also  two Roman soldiers and lovers, martyred together for their Christian faith – and by far the best known of all the gay saints. 

Juventinus and Maximus? (d. 363)

Paulinus of Nola (d. 431), a Bishop and missionary who is still honoured by the Church for the quality of his devotional verse, but whose output also included frankly homoerotic verse addressed to his friend, Ausonius.

Galla and Benedicta (d. 550), two Roman nuns.

Symeon of Emessa and John (d. 588)

Venantius Fortunatus (d. circa 600/609). Like Paulinus of Nola, a bishop who wrote good quality poetry, including verse in homoerotic language.

Cross-dressing monks

Also from this period, are some saints whose names are familiar and much loved, but for whom the historical evidence is shaky on detail, with some popular beliefs certainly unfounded. Associated with their names, is at least some evidence for same – sex loving relationships.

George the dragon slayer (d. 303)

Patrick: A Gay Role Model? (d. 493 )

Brigid of Ireland (d. 525)

 

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