Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Remembering the Queer Lives of Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy of Armagh

Today is the feast day of St. Bernard of Clairvaux, and over at the always informative Jesus in Love blog, "a place for LGBTQ spirituality and the arts," Kittredge Cherry shares an insightful commentary on this "queer" abbot's life, legacy and relationship with Malachy of Armagh. Following is an excerpt.

Bernard of Clairvaux was a medieval French abbot who wrote homoerotic poetry about Jesus and had a passionate same-sex friendship with the Irish archbishop Malachy of Armagh. Bernard is best known for founding 70 monasteries around Europe and for his mystical writings. His feast day is August 20 (today).

His first love was Jesus, but he showered Malachy with kisses during his lifetime. After Malachy died in his arms, they exchanged clothes. Malachy was buried in Bernard’s habit. Bernard put on Malachy’s habit to lead the funeral and wore it until his own death five years later. Bernard was buried beside Malachy, again in Malachy’s habit. Malachy (1094-1148) became the first native born Irish saint to be canonized.

Bernard (1090-1153) was adviser to five Popes and a monastic reformer who built the Cistercian order of monks and nuns. He is known as the last of the Church Fathers. The most famous saying attributed to him is: “The road to hell is paved with good intentions.”

He was a man of his time who engaged in rigorous ascetic practices and supported church teachings on celibacy. People today might say that he had a homosexual orientation while abstaining from sexual contact. Medieval mystics created alternative forms of sexuality that defy contemporary categories, but might be encompassed by the term “queer.” They directed their sexuality toward God and experienced God’s love through passionate friendship with another human being.

Monasteries and convents provided a social structure outside marriage, attracting many people that today would be defined as LGBT. Medieval monks and nuns who lived in same-sex communities under a vow of celibacy developed alternative ways of same-sex living and loving.

Bernard’s strict asceticism was balanced by sweetly erotic visions that earned him the title Doctor Mellifluus (“honey-tongued doctor.”) He chose to use the Song of Songs, the most erotic book in the Bible, as a major vehicle for his teaching. He began his “Sermons on the Song of Songs” in 1135 and had completed 86 sermons when he died nearly 20 years later with the series still unfinished.

“Jesus to me is honey in the mouth, music in the ear, a song in the heart,” he wrote in his 15th sermon on the Song of Songs.

His lesser known works include “Life of Saint Malachy of Armagh,” which is his idealized tribute to the man he loved, and “Salve Mundi Salutare,” a love poem to Jesus whose original homoeroticism has been suppressed. It became the basis for the popular English hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded.”

He was unfortunately associated with the Second Crusade, but he spoke out against Christian mistreatment of Jews and supported another queer mystic, Hildegard of Bingen, in her efforts to get her visions published. . . .

See also the previous Wild Reed posts:
"You and I Are One": Blessed Bernardo de Hoyos' Mystical Same-Sex Marriage to Jesus
Song of Songs: The Bible's Gay Love Poem
"More Lovely Than the Dawn": God as Divine Lover
The Many Manifestations of God's Loving Embrace
The Catholic Hierarchy: Officially Homophobic, Intensely Homoerotic
The Inherent Sensuality of Roman Catholicism
"Something Very Newmanesque"
Sergius and Bacchus: Martyrs, Saints, Lovers
Honoring (and Learning from) the Passion of Saints Sergius and Bacchus
Boris and George
The Allure of St. Sebastian
"From Byzantine Daddy to Baroque Twink" – Charles Darwent on the Journey of St. Sebastian
Ramesh Bjonnes on Rumi and Shams as Gay Lovers
The Archangel Michael as Gay Icon
The Archangel Michael: Perspectives and Portraits
"Homodevotion" to the Body of Christ
Jesus Was a Sissy

Recommended Off-site Link:
Pope Francis and the Gay Elephant in the Room – Phillip Clark (The Open Tabernacle, August 18, 2013).

Image: “Christ Embracing St. Bernard of Clairvaux” by Francisco Ribalta.


Kittredge Cherry said...

I’m delighted that you enjoyed my piece about Bernard and found it worthy of sharing with readers at the wondrous Wild Reed. They are not usually on lists of “queer saints,” so I thought there would be little info about them. But like many queer saints they were hiding in plain sight! I began researching and was fascinated to discover lots of buried info about their queer lives and homoerotic connection with Christ.

Michael J. Bayly said...

You do such great and important work, Kitt! It's always an honor to share aspects of it here at The Wild Reed. Thank you!