Over at the always insightful Jesus in Love Blog, Kittredge Cherry writes:
Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus were Roman soldiers in Armenia and “brothers by affection.” They are considered a primary example of same-sex lovers in the early church. Polyeuct’s feast day is February 13.
The men had a strong desire to spend eternity together, so Polyeuct converted from paganism to Christianity, the faith of his beloved Nearchus. With a convert’s zeal he attacked a pagan procession and was beheaded for his crime in the year 259. Shortly before he was executed, he spoke his last words to Nearchus: “Remember our secret vow.” Thus Polyeuct is known as a protector of vows and avenger of broken promises, in addition to his role as a probable “gay saint.”
The loving same-sex pair is portrayed in an icon by Brother Robert Lentz [opening image], a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It is one of 10 Lentz icons that sparked a major controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for the controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. All 10 are now displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”
Artist Jim Ru was also inspired to paint Polyeuct and Nearchus. His version [right] was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.
The love story of Polyeuct and Nearchus is told with wonderful historical detail in two books, Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe by Yale history professor John Boswell and Passionate Holiness by Dennis O’Neill. He is founder of the Living Circle, the interfaith LGBT spirituality center that commissioned the Lentz icon.
O’Neill reports that French writer Robert Dartois recently took the story of Polyeuct and Nearchus from “Passionate Holiness” and turned it into a libretto, which was then set by the Swiss composer Thierry Chatelain as the oratorio “Polyeucte et Nearchus.”
For those wanting to research the saints on the Internet, it helps to know that there are many variations in the spellings of their names, such as Polyeuctus and Nearchos.
NOTE: The above images and text are part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. In this series saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.
For more of Kittredge Cherry's insights at The Wild Reed, see:
Christ and Krishna
Quote of the Day – July 30, 2010
Homosexuality and the Priesthood
Opening image: Brother Robert Lentz, OFM (1995).