Sunday, February 13, 2011

Brothers by affection: Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus

Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM. © 1995
Collection of the Living Circle, Chicago, IL

Saints Polyeuct and Nearchus were Roman soldiers in 3rd-century Armenia and “brothers by affection.” They are considered a primary example of same-sex lovers in the early church. Polyeuct’s feast day is Feb. 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, 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.

Polyeuctus and Nearchus by Jim Ru
Artist Jim Ru was also inspired to paint Polyeuct and Nearchus. His version 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.

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. 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.

Icons of Polyeuct and Nearchus and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at Trinity Stores


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Trudie said...

Another excellent post with a gorgeous Lentz icon. Such a blessing!

Turtle Woman said...

Jim Ru gets the award for the very cutest saints!! Boy are they cute!!!

KittKatt said...

these icons seem especially suitable for Valentine's Day. I'm glad that you are enjoying these icons so much.

Anonymous said...

It's quite a stretch that they were gay. They loved God and each other as brothers - I don't know if you have siblings but the relationship can be just like marriage minus sex. In general, fornication is all sex putside of marriage so the two would not have been sexually active with one another - additionally the sin of adultery would be committed by the married one and would have nullified the sainthood.

Kittredge Cherry said...

We will never know for sure everything that happened more than 1,600 between Polyeuct and Nearchus, but the possibility that they were gay can inspire some of today’s LGBT people to live better lives. They don’t need to physically have sex with each other in order to have what we call a gay sexual orientation.. Homosexuality is more than sexual conduct. The American Psychological Association defines sexual orientation as “an enduring pattern of emotional, romantic, and/or sexual attractions.”