Throughout Jewish and Christian history there have undoubtedly been numerous leading churchmen, including popes,cardinals, bishops, abbots and saints who have had sex with men, or protected those who did, or who commissioned frankly homoerotic artworks. Many others, who as priests or monks kept to their vows of celibacy but had notable emotionally intimate relationships with men, or wrote of the value of such relationships, for the spiritual gifts they could bring. It would be wrong to describe these men as “gay”, which has modern connotations which are inappropriate for earlier times, (especially for those who have taken vows of celibacy), or to describe their female counterparts as “lesbian”.
“Queer”, on the other hands, has a broader range of meanings and connotations, including at the most literal level, simply “strange”. In church history, where the place of women has been so often undervalued, it is also appropriate to draw attention to those women in history who contradict the modern marginalisation of women in ecclesiastical power structures, as ordained deacons in the early church, or as powerful abbesses in the Medieval period. In the list below, there is no suggestion that all were involved in same – sex physically erotic relationships (although some may have been). However, all deserve some consideration by LGBT Christians for the lessons we can learn from their lives or writings, about the place of sexual or gender minorities in our history, or about the spiritual value of our relationships.
The origins of the Christian custom of honouring our saints lay in the state sponsored persecution of the early Christians, with recognition given to those who had died for their faith. The word “martyr” has its roots in the Greek for “to bear witness”, and in later centuries, it can be applied in a quite different sense, to men and women who have been persecuted not for their Christian faith, but for attempting to live honestly as gay, lesbian or trans men and women — persecuted not for the Church, but by the Christian community. In some cases, this persecution has taken the form of actual murder or judicial execution, in others, it has driven individuals to suicide. Continue reading Queer Saints and Martyrs for January