Gay Marriage in the 10th century Church?

I have to confess, I’m a bit skeptical of this story about St. Serge and St. Bacchus. But it is interesting.

While the pairing of saints, particularly in the early church, was not unusual, the association of these two men was regarded as particularly close. Severus of Antioch in the sixth century explained that “we should not separate in speech [Serge and Bacchus] who were joined in life.” More bluntly, in the definitive 10th century Greek account of their lives, St. Serge is openly described as the “sweet companion and lover” of St. Bacchus.

In other words, it confirms what the earlier icon implies, that they were a homosexual couple who enjoyed a celebrated gay marriage. Their orientation and relationship was openly accepted by early Christian writers. Furthermore, in an image that to some modern Christian eyes might border on blasphemy, the icon has Christ himself as their pronubus, their best man overseeing their gay marriage.

I have no doubt that gay relationships go back to long before there was a Judeo-Christian faith, but I have a hard time believing that the medieval Christian Church openly accepted and celebrated such relationships, let alone elevating the couple to sainthood with Jesus as their best man. I’d expect any gay love between them to be strictly in the closet.


  1. says

    I admit, I’m not familiar enough with the history to know if there’s evidence that he’s wrong, but Boswell’s study does reveal surprising tolerance of homosexual relationships in the early Catholic church. (He points, for example, iirc to specific liturgical ceremonies used for gay couples [not marriage, but still]). It’s been a long time since I read the book, or I’d try to be more specific, but regardless, there does seem to be historical evidence for a much more tolerant (at least, in this one specific case) church.

    Boswell’s “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality”

  2. says

    …..and turns out (via Wikipedia) that he was a Roman Catholic, and his writing has been sharply criticized by a number of well-respected Medieval historians. So, there’s that. Should always look this stuff up on Wikipedia first.

  3. says

    Maybe it was a “spiritual” platonic relationship; you know – like Ambrose St John and Cardinal Newman? Or maybe more like Roland and Oliver?

  4. Gregory in Seattle says

    This is pretty old news, actually: it was first proposed by historian and scholar John Boswell in his book, Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality, published in 1980, and greatly expanded upon in Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe, published in 1994. The specific ritual is adelphopoiesis, or “brother-making,” which has been an official part of the Orthodox tradition until the rite was dropped in the early 1900.

    While many church historians have objected — often times strongly — to Boswell’s conclusions, no one has been able to actually refute them: the rite itself, its name, and its apparent purpose of joining two people of the same sex (almost always men) into a married-like family are irrefutable.

  5. MatthewL says

    The church(es) has never been the monolith of god’s enduring wisdom(s) as they would have you believe. Archbishop Wolf Dietrich built the Schloss Altenau palace for his mistress around 1600. As far as I know there wasn’t any fuss about it at the time. I guess that would be more difficult to pull off nowadays.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if marriage between men was common in the early church considering the influence of classical culture.

  6. Abdul Alhazred says

    The confusion about this arises from the notion that marriage has something to do with “being in love”.

    That is a modern concept not even mentioned in the Bible.

    There may be some tales where a man is described as loving his wife, but that is not the Biblical purpose of marriage.

    Marriage was arranged by heads of families, pretty much without regard to anyone “being in love”.

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