Friday, March 07, 2014

Perpetua and Felicity: Patron saints of same-sex couples

Saints Perpetua and Felicity
By Brother Robert Lentz, OFM,

Saints Perpetua and Felicity were brave North African woman friends who were executed for their Christian faith in the third century. Some consider them lesbian saints or patrons of same-sex couples. Their feast day is March 7.

Perpetua and Felicity were arrested for being Christian, imprisoned together, and held onto each other in the last moments before they died together on March 7, 203.

Perpetua and Felicity are still revered both inside and outside the church. For example, they are named together in the Roman Catholic Canon of the Mass. They are often included in lists of LGBTQ saints because they demonstrate the power of love between two women.

The details of their imprisonment are known because Perpetua kept a journal, the first known written document by a woman in Christian history. In fact, her "Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and their Companions” was so revered in North Africa that St. Augustine warned people not to treat it like the Bible. People loved the story of the two women comforting each other in jail and giving each other the kiss of peace as they met their end in the amphitheater at Carthage, where they were mauled by wild animals before being beheaded.

Perpetua was a 22-year-old noblewoman and a nursing mother. Felicity, her slave, gave birth to a daughter while they were in prison. Although she was married, Perpetua's husband is conspicuously absent from her diary.

Yale history professor John Boswell names Perpetua and Felicity as one of the three primary pairs of same-sex lovers in the early church. (The others are Polyeuct and Nearchus and Sergius and Bacchus.) The love story of Felicity and Perpetua is told with historical detail in two books, “Same Sex Unions in Pre-Modern Europe” by Boswell and “Passionate Holiness” by Dennis O’Neill. He is founder of the Living Circle, the interfaith LGBT spirituality center that commissioned the following icon of the loving same-sex pair. It was painted by Brother Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his progressive icons.

The Lentz icon of Perpetua and Felicity 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. It is rare to see an icon about the love between women, especially two dark-skinned African women. The rich reds and heart-shaped double-halo make it look like a holy Valentine.

“Felicity and Perpetua: Patrons of Same-Sex Couples” by Maria Cristina

A banner saying “patrons of same sex couples” hangs above Felicity and Perpetua in the colorful icon painted by Maria Cristina, an artist based in Las Cruces, New Mexico. She paints the two women holding hands in an elegant gesture. The skull of a long-horn cow, similar to paintings of famous New Mexico artist Georgia O’Keefe, adds a welcome bit of Southwestern flavor to the image.

Felicity and Perpetua by Jim Ru
Artist Jim Ru was inspired to paint Felicity and Perpetua as a kissing couple. His version was displayed in his show “Transcendent Faith: Gay, Lesbian and Transgendered Saints” in Bisbee Arizona in the 1990s.

Irish artist St. George Hare, painted an erotic, romanticized vision of Perpetua and Felicity around 1890. His painting “The Victory of Faith” shows the women as an inter-racial couple sleeping together nude on a prison floor.

“The Victory of Faith” by St. George Hare (Wikimedia Commons)

Their lives are the subject of several recent historical novels, including “Perpetua: A Bride, A Martyr, A Passion” by Amy Peterson and “The Bronze Ladder” by Malcolm Lyon.

Related links:

"Eternal Bliss" - SS Felicity and Perpetua, March 7th (Queer Saints and Martyrs - and Others)

Suspect 3rd Century Women Put to Death in Arena: Ancient Hate Crime? (Unfinished Lives: Remembering LGBT hate crime victims)

Perpetua y Felicitas: santas patronas de parejas del mismo sexo (Santos Queer)
This post is part of the LGBT 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.

March is Women's History Month, so women will be especially highlighted this month at the Jesus in Love Blog.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts


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

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