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Saints and lovers

Today is the feast of Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus, two Christian saints who religious scholarly works and hagiographies have identified as gay men and lovers.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus

Icon of St Sergius and Saint Bacchus, by Robert Lentz, 1994.

Today is the feast of Saint Sergius and Saint Bacchus, two Christian saints who religious scholarly works and hagiographies have identified as gay men and lovers.

Saints Sergius and Bacchus are Christian martyrs. They were tortured to death in Syria because they refused to attend ceremonies honoring the pagan god Jupiter. Early Greek manuscripts revealed that they were gay men and that they were erastai or lovers. The manuscripts are found in libraries in Europe and indicate an earlier Christian acceptance of homosexuality.

Sergius and Bacchus have become popularly venerated in the gay Christian community.

The saints’ history tells that after they were arrested, the two soldiers were forced to wear women’s clothing and then were paraded through the streets as a way to humiliate them before other officers in the Roman army. They were then separated and tortured. Bacchus, the story says, died first and appeared later that night to Sergius who was beginning to lose heart. According to the early manuscripts, Bacchus told Sergius to persevere, that the delights of Heaven were greater than any suffering imposed on them, and that part of their reward would be to be reunited in Heaven.

The burial-place of Sergius and Bacchus was pointed out in the city of Resaph. In honor of Sergius, the Emperor Justinian also built churches at Constantinople and Acre. The church in Istanbul is now a mosque called Küçük Ayasofya Camii (Little Hagia Sophia Mosque), named for its resemblance to the much larger Hagia Sophia built a few years later.

In the East, Sergius and Bacchus were equally honored. Christian art represents the two saints as soldiers in military garb with branches of palm in their hands. The friendship between the two saints is emphasized in their iconographies by dressing them in military garb and with branches in their hands.

John Boswell, a religious scholar, considered them to be an influential pair of such an archetype. In his scholarly book, Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, Boswell argues that Sergius and Bacchus’s relationship can be understood as having a romantic dimension, noting that the oldest text of their martyrology describes them as “lovers.” Boswell also suggested that the two were even united in a rite known as adelphopoiesis or (brother-making), which he argued was a type of early Christian same-sex union or blessing, reinforcing his view of tolerant early Christian attitudes toward homosexuality. Modern critics, however, challenge Boswell’s claims.

In the wake of Boswell’s work, Sergius and Bacchus have become popularly venerated in the gay Christian community. A 1994 icon of Sergius and Bacchus by the gay Franciscan iconographer Robert Lentz, first displayed at Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade, has become a popular gay symbol.

About the author Walter

Walter lives and works in and around South Florida. When not practicing or studying acupuncture, you can find him at one of Miami’s beaches, or in a coffee shop lost in the pages of a good book. Walter enjoys diverse interests such as reading Tarot, practicing Qi Gong and Tai Chi, learning Buddhist dharma, practicing shamanic healing, writing for his blogs, reading Oriental philosophy, traveling to new places and old favorites, exploring contemplative photography with his iPhone, sitting quietly in meditation, practicing healthy fitness, and promoting wellbeing.

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2 Comments

  1. Actually, there are a number of paired military saints in the Byzantine Church, another being Saints Polyeucte and Nearchos. Churches are named for these paired soldier/lovers even though the modern Eastern Orthodox Rite is officially very homophobic. The Boswell book is well worth study, particularly as it knocks down the contention that there was no such thing as male/male marriage in the ancient world and therefore shouldn’t be in the modern one.

  2. oh they were just good friends, or so I was told .

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