Sergius and Bacchus were third-century Roman soldiers, Christian martyrs and gay men who loved each other. Their story is told here in words and pictures to honor their feast day today (Oct. 7).
The couple was openly gay, but secretly Christian — the opposite of today’s closeted Christians. They were killed around 303 in present-day Syria.
More Sergius and Bacchus images are at the end of this post, including the work of British photographer Anthony Gayton and American artists Robert Lentz, Tony de Carlo and Ryan Grant Long.
The close bond between Sergius and Bacchus has been emphasi zed since the earliest accounts, and recent scholarship has revealed their homosexuality. The oldest record of their martyrdom describes them as erastai (Greek for “lovers”). Scholars believe that they may have been united in the rite of adelphopoiesis (brother-making), a kind of early Christian same-sex marriage.
A classic example of paired saints, Sergius and Bacchus were high-ranking young officers. Sergius was primicerius (commander) and Bacchus was secundarius (subaltern officer). They were tortured to death after they refused to attend sacrifices to Zeus, thus revealing their secret Christianity.
The men were arrested and paraded through the streets in women’s clothing in an unsuccessful effort to humiliate them. Early accounts say that they responded by chanting that they were dressed as brides of Christ. They told their captors that women’s dress never stopped women from worshiping Christ, so it wouldn’t stop them, either. Then Sergius and Bacchus were separated and beaten so severely that Bacchus died.
Historical records reveal a queer side to Saint Francis of Assisi, one of the most beloved religious figures of all time. The 13th-century friar is celebrated for loving animals, hugging lepers, and praying for peace, but few know about his love for another man and his gender nonconformity. His feast day is today (Oct. 4).
When Francis (1181-1226) was a young man, he had an unnamed male companion whom he dearly loved — and who was written out of history after the first biography. Other Franciscan friars referred to Francis as “Mother” during his lifetime. He also liked to be greeted as “Lady Poverty.” He encouraged his friars to live as mothers with children when in hermitage together, and used other gender-bending metaphors to describe the spiritual life.
Francis allowed a widow to enter the male-only cloister, naming her “Brother Jacoba.” (Details about Jacoba are at the end of this article.) His partner in ministry was a woman, Clare of Assisi, and he cut her hair in a man’s tonsured style when she joined his male-only religious order.
Early evidence of these and ways that Francis crossed gender boundaries are gathered in the ground-breaking unpublished master’s thesis “Gender Liminality in the Franciscan Sources” by Kevin Elphick, a Franciscan scholar and a supervisor on a suicide prevention hotline in New York. He wrote the thesis for a master’s degree in Franciscan studies from St. Bonaventure University in New York.
Rumi is a 13th-century Persian poet and Sufi mystic whose love for another man inspired some of the world’s best poems and led to the creation of a new religious order, the whirling dervishes. His birthday is today (Sept. 30).
With sensuous beauty and deep spiritual insight, Rumi writes about the sacred presence in ordinary experiences. His poetry is widely admired around the world and he is one of the most popular poets in America. One of his often-quoted poems begins:
If anyone asks you
how the perfect satisfaction
of all our sexual wanting
will look, lift your face
The homoeroticism of Rumi is hidden in plain sight. It is well known that his poems were inspired by his love for another man, but the queer implications are seldom discussed. There is no proof that Rumi and his beloved Shams of Tabriz had a sexual relationship, but the intensity of their same-sex love is undeniable.
Rumi was born Sept. 30, 1207 in Afghanistan, which was then part of the Persian Empire. His father, a Muslim scholar and mystic, moved the family to Roman Anatolia (present-day Turkey) to escape Mongol invaders when Rumi was a child. Rumi lived most of his life in this region and used it as the basis of his chosen name, which means “Roman.” His full name is Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Balkhi-Rumi.