Thursday, May 30, 2013

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing warrior-saint

Saint Joan of Arc by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM

Joan of Arc was a tough cross-dressing teenage warrior who led the medieval French army to victory when she was 17. She is a queer icon, girl-power hero and patron saint of France. Her feast day is today (May 30).

Smart and courageous, Joan of Arc (c. 1412-1431) had visions of saints and angels who told her to cut her hair, put on men’s clothes and go to war. At age 18 she helped crown a king and at 19 she was killed by the church that later made her a saint. She died for her God-given right to wear men’s clothing, the crime for which she was executed 581 years ago today.

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Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing warrior-saint and LGBTQ role model

Joan of Arc portrait, c. 1485
Wikimedia Commons
Contemporary LGBT people recognize a kindred spirit in her stubborn defiance of gender rules. Queer writers tend to downplay Joan’s Christian faith, while the church covers up the importance of her cross-dressing. In truth, Joan believed strongly in God AND in cross-dressing. She insisted that God wanted her to wear men’s clothes, making her what today can be called “queer” or “transgender.” She fits the medieval archetype known as the “holy transvestite.” Cross-dressing was illegal, but what really upset the church authorities, then as now, was the audacity of someone being both proudly queer AND devoutly Christian. Her belief that God was the source of her gender-bending queerness makes her an especially inspiring role model for LGBT Christians and our allies.

Joan’s extraordinary life continues to fascinate all kinds of people. Many are eager to claim her as a symbol, from LGBT people and feminists to the Catholic Church and French nationalists. Joan is the subject of more than 10,000 books, plays, paintings and films, including recent works by transgender author Leslie Feinberg and lesbian playwright Carolyn Gage.

Gage’s one-woman show “The Second Coming of Joan of Arc” is an underground classic with Joan as “a cross-dressing, teenaged, runaway lesbian” confronting male-dominated institutions. Feinberg has a chapter on Joan as “a brilliant transgender peasant teenager leading an army of laborers into battle” in her history book “Transgender Warriors: Making History from Joan of Arc to Dennis Rodman.”

The extensive records of her trials by the Inquisition make Joan of Arc the best-documented person of 15th century. There are only hints that she may have been a lesbian, but the evidence is absolutely clear about her trans expression as a cross-dresser.

Joan of Arc, also known as Jeanne d’Arc, was born to peasants in an obscure village in eastern France around 1412, toward the end of the Hundred Years War. Much of France was occupied by England, so that Charles, the heir to the French throne, did not dare to be crowned. When Joan was 13, she began hearing voices that told her to help France drive out the English.

The visions continued for years, becoming more detailed and frequent. Once or twice a week she had visions of Michael the Archangel and two virgin saints: Catherine of Alexandria and Margaret of Antioch (another transvestite saint who refused to marry a man). They told her that God wanted her to meet Charles and lead an army to Reims for his coronation.

Joan’s family tried to convince her that her visions weren’t real, and her first attempt to visit the royal court was rejected. When she was 17 she put on male clothing and succeeded in meeting Charles. He agreed to outfit her as a knight and allowed her to lead a 5,000-man army against the English.

On Charles’ order, a full suit of armor was created to fit Joan. He had a banner made for her and assigned an entourage to help her: a squire, a page, two heralds, a chaplain and other servants.

Joan of Arc on Horseback, 1505
Wikimedia Commons
Joan’s appearance awed the soldiers and peasants when she traveled with the army. Mounted on a fine warhorse, she rode past cheering crowds in a suit of armor. Her hair was “cropped short and round in the fashion of young men.” She carried an ancient sword in one hand and her banner in the other. Her sword was found, as Joan predicted, buried at the church of St. Catherine at Fierbois. The banner showed Christ sitting on a rainbow against a background of white with gold lilies and the motto “Jhesus-Maria.” Legend says that white butterflies followed Joan wherever she rode with her banner unfurled.

With Joan leading the way, the army won the battle at Orleans and continued to defeat English and pro-English troops until they reached Reims. She proudly stood beside Charles VII at his coronation there on July 17, 1429.

Joan soon resumed leading military campaigns. Even during her lifetime the peasants adored her as a saint, flocking around her to touch her body or clothing. Her cross-dressing didn’t disturb them. In fact, they seemed to honor her for her transgender expression. Perhaps, as some scholars say, the peasants saw Joan as part of a tradition that linked transvestites and priests in pre-modern Europe.

One of the first modern writers to raise the possibility of Joan’s lesbianism was English author Vita Sackville-West. She implied that Joan was a lesbian in her 1936 biography “Saint Joan of Arc.” The primary source for this idea was the fact, documented in her trials, that Joan shared her bed with other girls and young women. She followed the medieval custom of lodging each night in a local home. Joan always slept with the hostess or the girls of the household instead of with the men.

Nobody knows for sure whether Joan of Arc was sexually attracted to women or had lesbian encounters, but her abstinence from sex with men is well documented. Her physical virginity was confirmed by official examinations at least twice during her lifetime. Joan herself liked to be called La Pucelle, French for “the Maid,” a nickname that emphasized her virginity. Witnesses at her trial testified that Joan was chaste rather than sexually active.

Joan’s illustrious military career ended in May 1430. She was captured in battle by the Burgundians, the French allies of the English. During her captivity they called her “hommase,” a slur meaning “man-woman” or “masculine woman.”

In a stunning betrayal, Charles VII did nothing to rescue the warrior who helped win him the crown. It was normal to pay ransom for the release of knights and nobles caught in battle, but he abandoned Joan to her fate. Historians speculate that French aristocrats felt threatened by the peasant girl with such uncanny power to move the masses.

The Burgundians transferred Joan to the English, who then gave her to the Inquisition. She spent four torturous months in prison before her church trial began on Jan. 9, 1431 in Rouen, the seat of the English occupation government. She was charged with witchcraft and heresy.

The politically motivated church trial was rigged against her, and yet Joan was able to display her full intelligence as she answered the Inquisitors’ questions. Her subtle, witty answers and detailed memory even forced them to stop holding the trial in public.

Witchcraft was hard to prove, so the church dropped the charge. (Many of today’s Wiccans and pagans still honor Joan as one of their own.) The Inquisitors began to focus exclusively on the “heresy” of Joan’s claim that she was following God’s will when she dressed as a man. The judges told her that cross-dressing was “an abomination before God” according to church law and the Bible. (See Deuteronomy 22:5.)

They accused Joan of “leaving off the dress and clothing of the feminine sex, a thing contrary to divine law and abominable before God, and forbidden by all laws” and instead dressing in “clothing and armor such as is worn by man.”

Joan swore that God wanted her to wear men’s clothing. “For nothing in the world will I swear not to arm myself and put on a man’s dress; I must obey the orders of Our Lord,” she testified. She outraged the judges by continuing to appear in court wearing what they called “difformitate habitus” (“monstrous dress” or “degenerate apparel.”)

Today Joan’s conservative admirers claim that she wore men’s clothes only as way to avoid rape, but she said that it meant much more to her. Joan of Arc saw cross-dressing as a sacred duty.

The judges summarized Joan’s testimony by saying, “You have said that, by God’s command, you have continually worn man’s dress, wearing the short robe, doublet, and hose attached by points; that you have also worn your hair short, cut ‘en rond’ above your ears with nothing left that could show you to be a woman; and that on many occasions you received the Body of our Lord dressed in this fashion, although you have been frequently admonished to leave it off, which you have refused to do, saying that you would rather die than leave it off, save by God’s command.”

Joan refused to back down on the visions she received from God, and she was sentenced to death. She was burned at the stake on May 30, 1431 in Rouen. Twenty five years later she was retried and her conviction was overturned. Joan was declared innocent.

Her armor, that “monstrous dress,” became an object of veneration, sought after like the Holy Grail with various churches claiming to possess her true armor. Joan of Arc was canonized as a saint in 1920. Famous writers and composers who have done works about her include Shakespeare, Voltaire, Verdi, Tchaikovsky, Mark Twain, Bertolt Brecht and George Bernard Shaw. A stunning portrait of Joan kissing her sword (below) was painted by Pre-Raphaelite artist Dante Gabriel Rossetti, whose sister Christina Rossetti is also part of the LGBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog.

“Joan of Arc Kisses the Sword of Liberation” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 1863 (WikiPaintings)

This post features contemporary portraits of Joan by Rowan Lewgalon, Robert Lentz and Tobias Haller. Lewgalon is a spiritual artist based in Germany and also a cleric in the Old Catholic Apostolic Church. Her work is online at Lentz is a Franciscan friar known for his innovative and LGBT-positive icons. He is stationed at Holy Name College in Silver Spring, Maryland. His icons are available at

“Jeanne d’Arc” by Tobias Haller

“Jeanne d’Arc” was sketched by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his husband were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

A widely used prayer to Saint Joan of Arc makes a powerful statement that can inspire those who believe in equality for LGBT people, despite rejection by religion and society:

“In the face of your enemies, in the face of harassment, ridicule, and doubt, you held firm in your faith. Even in your abandonment, alone and without friends, you held firm in your faith. Even as you faced your own mortality, you held firm in your faith. I pray that I may be as bold in my beliefs as you, St. Joan. I ask that you ride alongside me in my own battles. Help me be mindful that what is worthwhile can be won when I persist. Help me hold firm in my faith. Help me believe in my ability to act well and wisely. Amen.”

Joan has a dialogue with the fire that is about to consume her in a haunting song written by award-winning Canandian poet Leonard Cohen and sung on July Collins video .

Related links:

Wikipedia article on Cross-dressing, sexuality, and gender identity of Joan of Arc

Joan of Arc trial transcript online

Joan of Arc: Cross-dressing martyr at Queering the Church Blog

Joan of Arc sculpture by Anna Hyatt Huntington at the Cathedral of Saint John the Divine in New York City

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Juana de Arco: Santa Travesti

This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes 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.

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

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

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Hidden Perspectives interviews Kittredge Cherry on LGBT religious themes

Hidden Perspectives, a project for “bringing the Bible out of the closet,” posted a new interview with author Kittredge Cherry on interactions between LGBT people and religion.

“My Christian faith gave me the strength to come out as a lesbian almost 30 years ago,” Cherry says in the wide-ranging interview. “Later I learned that my journey was unusual. Many LGBT people start out feeling condemned as sinners by the church, and find liberation by rejecting religion. But I felt condemned by society and found liberation through the church. I could never imagine a God that didn’t totally love LGBT people.”

Artists, singers, poets, academics and storytellers will challenge homophobic assumptions about what the Bible says at the day-long Hidden Perspective Festival on Sat., June 1 at the University of Sheffield in England. Cherry wrote text for a booklet to accompany an exhibit of the LGBT Stations of the Cross paintings by Mary Button.

Hidden Perspectives is a large-scale pioneering public engagement project that aims to open up Bible interpretation to under-represented groups. The project is jointly organized by Katie Edwards, who teaches Bible studies at the University of Sheffield, and LaDIYfest Sheffield, a grassroots feminist collective.

Kittredge Cherry is a lesbian Christian author and art historian who writes about LGBT spirituality and the arts at the Jesus In Love Blog. She was ordained by Metropolitan Community Churches and served as its National Ecumenical Officer. Her books include “Art That Dares: Gay Jesus: Woman Christ, and More.”

Click here for Cherry’s full interview at Here is an excerpt:

Hidden Perspectives: Do you have a personal story about LGBT and Religion/The Bible?

Kittredge Cherry: My Christian faith gave me the strength to come out as a lesbian almost 30 years ago. I grew up mostly secular and did not believe in God. I hid my sexual orientation in the closet and lived a lie because I was afraid of the stigma and discrimination against homosexuality. My father’s death in 1983 led me to go an interdenominational church, where I experienced the reality of God reaching out personally to me with love. I got baptized and Christianity gave me a whole new way of looking at the world: I knew God loved me and created me as I am, so I could stop worrying about other people’s disapproval. Later I learned that my journey was unusual. Many LGBT people start out feeling condemned as sinners by the church, and find liberation by rejecting religion. But I felt condemned by society and found liberation through the church. I could never imagine a God that didn’t totally love LGBT people.

Hidden Perspectives: What do you wish to communicate through your blog?

Kittredge Cherry: I want the Jesus in Love Blog to communicate that God is madly in love with everyone -- including LGBT people and people who don’t believe in God. I am committed to presenting ideas in an impartial way that appeals to non-believers as well as people of faith. Because I grew up secular, I feel an affinity for atheists and for people who are alienated from the church. My blog speaks in a special way to people who are outside the official church, but still have spiritual needs. I also seek to nurture artists who are creating queer Christian images. These images are badly needed, but they face a lot of opposition from conservatives and almost no institutional support. Like me, they’re too queer for the church and too Christian for most LGBT people and allies. I thank God for places like Hidden Perspectives where LGBT interpretations of the Bible are welcome.

Click here for Cherry’s full interview at

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

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Trinity Sunday: Holy Spirit blesses same-sex couple as Gay Passion of Christ series ends

24. The Trinity (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.”-- Luke 23:43 (RSV)

An angelic figure blesses a gay couple in “The Trinity,” the final, climactic image in Blanchard’s Passion of Christ. The painting can stand alone to affirm the holiness of gay couples, but it also serves as a meditation on the Christian Trinity: one God in three persons. Churches celebrate the concept on Trinity Sunday, which is today (May 26) this year.

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Trinity Sunday: Holy Spirit blesses same-sex couple as Gay Passion of Christ series ends

The couple holds hands before a table set with milk, honey, and fruit -- references to the Promised Land. The man draped in red reaches toward out, coaxing the viewer to join them in the sunny garden. The winged woman in the golden robe is the same Holy Spirit who arrived in the previous painting. An arch in the background hints at the gate of heaven. Indeed viewers are welcome to imagine themselves seated in paradise with Christ as their bridegroom.

“The Trinity” shows how Jesus has been transformed by his experience of the Passion. He moved from the dark prison of the first painting to a bright land of promise, out of the closet, into the streets, and on to holy bliss. He completed the mythic hero’s journey: martyred and reborn with power to redeem the world. The painting can stand alone to affirm the goodness of same-sex couples, but it also serves as a foretaste of paradise and a meditation on the Christian Trinity: one God in three persons. The artist has said that he intended this image to be “a little glimpse of salvation, of the reward of the faithful.”

The Bible often says that Jesus will ascend to heaven and sit at the right hand of God. By that reckoning, the man in blue must be God, but he is not the usual Father figure of traditional Trinitarian imagery. He doesn’t look like “the Lord” and certainly not old enough to be Jesus’ father. In Blanchard’s universe, God’s identification with humanity is so complete that God and Jesus are identical young lovers in a mystic same-sex marriage, both sharing the same crucifixion wounds. Mission accomplished, they sit together side by side in radical equality. As the historical Christian creeds say, they are “of one substance” and “coeternal, and coequal.”

The Trinity concept is reinforced by the colors of their clothing. The red, blue, and yellow robes are the three primary colors that, when mixed, create the full spectrum of white light. Red, yellow, and blue flowers blossom around them. These are common, garden-variety plants: irises, geraniums -- and dandelions! Even weeds are welcome at the feet of Christ. Blanchard’s heaven is just not a faraway, immaterial afterlife, but an earthly garden in this present paradise. The natural setting and robes give it a timeless quality, but there are hints of contemporary life in the glass pitcher and honey jar. The man on the right wears a modern t-shirt under his blue robe.

The term “Trinity” is never used in the Bible, although it is implied in references to Jesus, God, and the Holy Spirit, who is often represented as female. Viewers will be forgiven for wondering which man is Jesus. Blanchard, who is so adept at painting individual faces, gives the same face to all three, even the female Holy Spirit. The artist does this on purpose to emphasize the three-in-one nature of God. BOTH men have haloes and marks of crucifixion on their wrists.

One clue to their identities comes from the way the figures direct their attention. The Holy Spirit and the man in blue focus on the man in red. Their body language suggests that he is Jesus, the center of this series, the one who just completed his heroic Passion journey. Like Christ in Blanchard’s first painting, the man in red gazes straight ahead, meeting the eyes of the viewer. His upper torso is naked, revealing the wound in his side and a radiant, muscular body. Surely this man is Jesus.

The holy gay wedding imagery is especially revolutionary because of its placement in Blanchard’s Passion sequence. After the Ascension and Pentecost, the final position in a Passion cycle normally goes to the Last Judgment. Traditional images show Jesus condemning sinners to hell and sending the righteous to heaven. Conservative Christians like to imagine homosexuals among the damned. But Blanchard rejects the crime-based model. Jesus and God are not on thrones nor do they judge anybody. Indeed Blanchard reverses the whole Christian view of history as presented by countless artists, including his acknowledged inspiration, Albrecht Durer. In his 16th-century Small Passion, Durer began with Adam and Eve eating forbidden fruit and being expelled from Eden as punishment. He ended with the Last Judgment. By contrast Blanchard starts with punishment in prison, and then finds a way to paradise. He chose a prototype for this painting in a separate branch of art history: Andrei Rublev’s great Byzantine icon “Trinity,” which shows the three angels at Abraham’s table. Blanchard’s Passion concludes not with judgment, but with love as its crowning glory.

The symbolism of this image can be better understood in comparison with the first painting, “Son of Man with Job and Isaiah.” The opening picture also forms a kind of Trinity. The two paintings that start and end the series have a lot in common. Unlike the rest of the series, their titles are theological concepts. Both have interrupted the flow of time, mixing modern and ancient dress. Both show Jesus gazing directly into the eyes of the viewer. The first and last images are like brackets that enclose and uphold the events in Christ’s life.

A lot of LGBT people (and others) just plain like “The Trinity,” without seeing it as Christian at all. It was chosen to illustrate the concept of gay friendship on the cover of “White Crane Journal: Gay Wisdom and Culture” in summer 2007. Blanchard’s Trinity is queer in other ways. The whole concept of a three-in-one God with male and female aspects means that that God does not fit the standard “male” and “female” binary, but may be transgender, omnigender, or genderqueer. Most artists throughout history have not used couples to symbolize the joys of heaven, but some contemporary LGBT artists do. Both Blanchard and Swedish photographer Elisabeth Ohlson Wallin envision same-sex pairs in the afterlife. Ohlson Wallin closes her “Ecce Homo” series with a vision of heaven in which Jesus and his boyfriend are surrounded by a crowd of loving lesbian and gay couples, all clad in white.

After progressing through the whole Passion series, viewers have witnessed God’s solidarity with humankind and seen the power of love to transcend personal suffering, human history, and even death itself. Preconceptions have been shaken by the encounter with Jesus, the wounded healer, the hated lover, the crucified creator, the liberator in chains, the all-too-human child of God. From this post-resurrection space, Christ has regained his complexity. The gay vision of Christ’s Passion leaves viewers with an invitation to rise to a new life where everyone can reach out to others with love as Jesus does. The painting ends the series as a visual benediction, encouraging viewers to carry the vision onward and live with passion in every sense of the word.

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the realm of heaven.” -- -- Matthew 5:10 (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

What is the gay vision of heaven? The Holy Spirit inspires each person to see visions of God in his or her own way. Look, the Holy Spirit celebrates two men who love each other! She looks like an angel as She protects the male couple. Are the men Jesus and God? No names can fully express the omnigendered Trinity of Love, Lover, and Beloved… or Mind, Body, and Spirit. God is madly in love with everybody. God promises to lead people out of injustice and into a good land flowing with milk and honey. We can travel in the same paths where Jesus journeyed. Opening to the joy and pain of the world, we can experience all of creation as our body -- the body of Christ. As queer as it sounds, we can create our own land of milk and honey. As Jesus often said, heaven is among us and within us. Now that we have seen a gay vision of Christ’s Passion, we are free to move forward with passion.

Jesus, thank you for giving me a new vision!

This is part of the series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision.”

The Passion series features 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. It is also available as a book and prints.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Related links:

The Genderqueer Trinity (Queering the Church)

Scripture quotations are from the Inclusive Language Lectionary, copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Saturday, May 25, 2013

Rosa Bonheur: Cross-dressing painter honored “androgyne Christ”

“Rosa Bonheur” by Ria Brodell

Rosa Bonheur, the most famous female painter of the 19th century, was a queer cross-dresser who honored what she called the “androgyne Christ.” She had two consecutive long-term relationships with women. She died on this date (May 25) in 1899.

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Rosa Bonheur: Cross-dressing painter honored “androgyne Christ”

Born in France in 1822, Bonheur received much acclaim in her lifetime for her paintings of animals. In recent decades she has been celebrated as a queer pioneer, feminist icon, and role model for the LGBT community. Her achievements grew out of an unusual religious upbringing in the proto-feminist Saint-Simonian sect, and the queer Christian ideals that she expressed in adulthood. Bonheur’s gender-bending lifestyle has been covered extensively by scholars, but her spirituality has received much less attention.

Her parents raised her in Saint-Simonianism, a French utopian Christian-socialist movement that advocated equality for women and prophesied the coming of a female messiah. Her father was an artist and an ardent apostle for the Saint-Simonian religion. Bonheur writes a whole chapter about growing up as a Saint-Simonian in the book “Rosa Bonheur: The Artist's (Auto)biography,” which she wrote with her companion Anna Klumpke.

The Saint-Simonian concept of gender equality paved the way for Bonheur’s father to train her as a painter -- and for her own defiance of gender norms. As she put it, “To his doctrines I owe my great and glorious ambition for the sex to which I proudly belong and whose independence I shall defend until my dying day.”

Rosa Bonheur's
Permission to cross-dress
(Wikimedia Commons)
Cross-dressing was illegal in France at that time, but she got permission from the police to wear men’s trousers so she could sketch at such male-dominated places as horse fairs and slaughterhouses. She broke rules of feminine behavior by smoking cigars and wearing her hair short. She was never arrested for wearing men’s clothes, but she was arrested once in female attire when a policeman thought she was a man pretending to be a woman!

Bonheur had two female companions in her lifetime. She spent 50 years living with her childhood sweetheart Nathalie Micas, who died in 1889. Bonheur grieved deeply and then shared the last years of her life with a new companion, American artist Anna Klumpke.

One of their joint projects was writing Bonheur’s autobiography. In it she discusses her religious beliefs, stating, “I get blamed for not going to church! I may have more religion than the folks who, instead of doing their best to lead a blameless life, go mutter prayers there every day in a language they don’t understand…. I’ve written my own versions of the most important Catholic prayers.”

Here are some excerpts from prayers written by Bonheur and published in her autobiography:

Bonheur’s version of the Hail Mary prayer:

Hail, O earth full of grace, the living God is with you. Blessed are you among all the planets, the fruit of your womb is our salvation. Holy earth, mother of love, pour out your grace on those who suffer, now and in our divine transformation.

From Bonheur’s Creed:

I believe in God the all-powerful, everlasting Father, creator of all things eternal. I believe in his beloved Son, the saving Two, androgyne Christ, the highest point of human transformation, the sublime manifestation of the living God who is in everything that is.

Bonheur died at age 77, and Klumpke went on to champion Bonheur’s work until she died in 1942. They are buried together in a grave in Paris. Bonheur’s most famous paintings are “The Horse Fair” and “Plowing in the Nivernais,” but she leaves a large legacy of art depicting horses, cattle, sheep, lions, dogs, and many other creatures. A selection of her work is posted below.

The portrait at the top of this post is part of the “Butch Heroes” series by Ria Brodell, a culturally Catholic gender-queer artist in the Boston area. For more about Brodell, see my previous post “Artist paints history’s butch heroes: Ria Brodell interview.”

"Royalty at Home" by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)

"The Horse Fair" by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)

"Relay Hunting" by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)

“Plowing in the Nivernais” by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)

"Sultan and Rosette" by Rosa Bonheur (Wikimedia Commons)
Related links:

Rosa Bonheur (Art History Archive)

Rosa Bonheur at the Legacy Project

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery. It also highlights great queer artists from history, with an emphasis on their spiritual lives.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved. presents the Jesus in Love Blog on LGBTQ spirituality.

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Pentecost: The Holy Spirit Arrives (Gay Passion of Christ series)

23. The Holy Spirit Arrives (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“There appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” -- Acts 2:3-4 (RSV)

A winged woman literally lights up a crowd in “The Holy Spirit Arrives” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. This is a modern version of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire to the disciples of Jesus and inspired them to speak in other languages. Pentecost is a major church holiday celebrated today (May 19, 2013) this year. It is also known as Whitsunday.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Pentecost: Holy Spirit brings LGBTQ visions

In Blanchard’s painting the Holy Spirit floats like an angel above the people at an intersection where darkened city streets meet at odd angles. Carrying flares in both hands, she looks like a flame in her golden gown. The dusky sky and unlit buildings strike a mysterious mood, making miracles possible. Tongues of fire literally flame up from the heads of the people on the streets. Many are arm in arm, forming a circle. Filled with the spirit, they make strange alliances. A soldier, a gangbanger, and a businessman wrap their arms around each other. An older woman and a younger woman embrace. The person in the wheelchair appears to be the same hothead who demanded the death of Christ in 10. Jesus Before the People. Looming behind them is a large building under construction.

The painting gives visual form to a moment of spiritual transcendence. “The Holy Spirit Arrives” is the only painting in Blanchard’s Passion series that does not show Jesus. And yet Jesus IS present within the people. They have been transformed by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. Everyone is enflamed -- not just the twelve apostles. Christ has multiple manifestations both inside and outside the church in today’s pluralistic society. The painting also hints that Jesus is present in the form of the Holy Spirit. They both have the same face. This, Blanchard says, is deliberate. By making Jesus and the Holy Spirit look alike, he emphasizes that they are one being. Christ, who is both male and female, can easily change genders.

The story of Pentecost is told in Acts 2 of the Bible. The apostles were sitting together indoors early one morning when they heard wind rushing. Tongues of fire landed on each of them. Inspired by the Spirit, they spoke in other tongues and a crowd gathered. Devout people from all over the world were amazed to hear the mighty works of God in their own languages. But some scoffed, so Peter explained by quoting a prophecy from the Book of Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and the young shall see visions, and the old shall dream dreams.” -- Acts 2:17 (Inclusive Language Lectionary) Jesus himself predicted that the Holy Spirit would come after him to empower his disciples to do “even greater things” than he did. He referred to the Holy Spirit with the Greek term paraclete, which means advocate, comforter, or teacher. The word rendered as “Spirit” also denotes wind or breath. The early church taught that the arrival of the Holy Spirit reopened paradise, which had been closed by human sin. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit continues to inspire believers in the present, especially in times of trouble or celebration.

Blanchard takes Pentecost out into the streets and humanizes it by presenting the Holy Spirit as a woman. In church texts the Holy Spirit is sometimes described as the female person of the Trinity. She is known as Sophia, the embodiment of Wisdom. But at other times She is referred to as “He,” a rather queer blurring of gender duality. Blanchard’s bold female Holy Spirit is one of the most unusual features of this painting from an art historical perspective. Artists generally depict the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a descending dove, not as a woman. Blanchard gives her the wings of a dove. The shape of the building behind the Holy Spirit also looks like a dove, mirroring the shape in the background of “21. Jesus Appears to His Friends.” Paintings of Pentecost are often called “The Descent of the Holy Spirit,” but Blanchard removes the top-down implications by titling it “The Holy Spirit Arrives.”

Earlier in the Passion series the crowd strained to touch Christ or follow his lead, but now they have absorbed his teachings and indeed his spirit. The transformation of the crowd on Pentecost becomes more visible when contrasted with the masses who marched with Jesus on Palm Sunday. Blanchard’s second painting and the second-to-last paintings are paired, just like the first and last. In the past the crowd marched into the city carrying signs, but they didn’t look at each other. Now they have no need for placards or slogans. Turning to each other, they find among themselves the freedom and justice that they had sought to gain. They have been tested in ways that were unimaginable on Palm Sunday and forged into true community. They experience God effortlessly, involuntarily. Despite their otherworldly flames, they are more present in the world than they were before. The Palm Sunday setting was sterile and empty except for the triumphal arch, but this crowd gathers on a realistic city street where people actually live.

The Biblical idea of a fire burning on one’s head is scary as well as implausible, but the flames brought by Blanchard’s Holy Spirit look friendly and tame, like birthday candles. Sometimes Pentecost is called the birthday of the church. Like the burning bush of Moses, the holy fire doesn’t consume. The building under construction in the background can be interpreted as the foundation of the Christian church. The artist himself offered an alternative view: “I prefer to think of it as a reference to the story of the Tower of Babel.” The Holy Spirit turns her back on the half-built structure that symbolizes ungodly human arrogance, destined to be toppled by God.

Many of the previous paintings have a tight, sometimes claustrophobic focus. Blanchard’s Pentecost comes like a breath of fresh air that shows the big picture at last. The past comes into perspective and the viewer can see the neighborhood where Jesus lived and died. Blanchard says that he did not intend any particular location. Intersections like this are common in New York City. One of the many places it resembles is the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where 146 garment workers died, the deadliest industrial disaster in New York history. That destructive fire contrasts with the transformative flames of the Spirit.

Viewers may be surprised to find Pentecost in a series on the Passion of Christ. Artists do not always conclude the Passion narrative with Jesus’ death, resurrection, or even his ascension. Blanchard acknowledges that one of the inspirations for this series is Albrecht Durer’s Albrecht Durer’s Small Passion. He follows the Durer’s example by continuing the Passion for two more panels after the Ascension. Both artists portray Pentecost as the next-to-last image. In Blanchard’s gay Passion, Pentecost is a stopping point near the end of the road from prison to paradise

Progressive Christians recognize the work of the Spirit when churches begin to embrace LGBT members, bless same-sex marriages, ordain openly LGBT clergy, and teach queer theology. In light of Pentecost, it may be significant that the most outrageously effeminate gay men have been disparaged as “flaming.” The bundles of sticks used to burn heretics were called “faggots,” now an insult for gay men.

The Pentecost story is good news for LGBT people because the Holy Spirit comes to ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Spirit ignites the desire to be true to oneself, even when that means being fully, flagrantly queer. LGBT people can identify with the Holy Spirit’s combustible mix of male and female. The Holy Spirit, whose own gender is ambiguous, welcomes those who are called bulldykes or fairies, amazons or eunuchs, transfolk or genderqueer, two-spirit or third-gender. Every language has words for queer people, and the story of Jesus has been translated into many languages. Thanks to the multi-lingual marvels of Pentecost, the gospel is now available with a gay accent.

“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and the young shall see visions, and the old shall dream dreams.” -- Acts 2:17  (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

Jesus promised his friends that the Holy Spirit would come to empower them. They were together in the city on Pentecost when suddenly they heard a strong windstorm blowing in the sky. Tongues of fire appeared and separated to land on each one of them. Jesus’ friends were flaming, on fire with the Holy Spirit! Soon the Spirit led them to speak in other languages. All the excitement drew a big crowd. Good people from every race and nation came from all over the city. They brought their beautiful selves like the colors of the rainbow. Each one was able to hear about God in his or her own language. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we too can hear and speak God’s story. We are the flaming friends of Christ!

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle a flame of love in my heart.

Related links:
Pentecost comes alive with erotic Christ (excerpt from the novel “At the Cross”)

The queer day of Pentecost (
This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations are from the Inclusive Language Lectionary, copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Adam and Steve welcome marriage equality

“Adam and Steve in 14 Countries” by Tony De Carlo

Congratulations to Minnesota for becoming the 12th state to approve marriage equality today! And a belated congrats to New Zealand for legalizing marriage equality last month!

In honor of these events, here is “Adam and Steve in 14 Countries” by Tony De Carlo -- the newest in his ever-expanding Adam and Steve series. He began the series in response to people who oppose LGBT rights with the foolish argument that “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”

In this painting Adam and Steve, the original same-sex couple, stand together on an island made of flags. “I cut this out with my scroll saw from a piece of plywood, used the obvious biblical references and then added the flags of the 14 countries that now recognize marriage equality for all of its citizens,” De Carlo said. Those countries are: Argentina, Canada, Uruguay, Belgium, The Netherlands, France, South Africa, New Zealand, Spain, Portugal, Sweden, Norway, Denmark and Iceland.

Soon he will probably have to paint a new version as more states and countries legalize marriage for lesbian and gay couples. How can we keep up with all this equality?!

De Carlo is a native of Los Angeles, now living in Savannah, Georgia. His work is exhibited regularly in museums and galleries throughout the United States.

For more on Tony De Carlo and his art, see my previous post:
Gay saints, Adam & Steve, and marriage equality art affirms LGBT love: Tony De Carlo Interview (Jesus in Love)

Related links:

Tony De Carlo on Facebook

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

Thursday, May 09, 2013

Ascension Day: Jesus Returns to God (Gay Passion of Christ series)

22. Jesus Returns to God (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

“As they were looking on, he was lifted up, and a cloud took him out of their sight.” -- Acts 1:9 (RSV)

A male couple seems to dance skyward in a vision of the Ascension from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” by Doug Blanchard, a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. Churches celebrate the Feast of the Ascension today (May 9).

The loving couple seems to dance in a mystical homoerotic union. Jesus, shirtless and wearing blue jeans, swoons in the arms of a dance partner who appears to be a hunky angel. But they both have crucifixion wounds on their wrists. Jesus is embraced directly by God! The position of their arms suggests a ballroom dance, perhaps a waltz, with God’s hand planted firmly on Jesus’ buttocks.

Detail from "Jesus Returns to God"
Beams of white light stream from God’s head in a bright sunburst, almost obliterating the blue sky. His wings look muscular, as if God must work hard to lift the dead weight of Jesus up from the earth. The wounds in Jesus’ wrists and feet were dark before, but now they glow like hot-pink jewels. Dissolving into white at the top, this is the lightest painting in Blanchard’s Passion series, contrasting with the pitch-black panel of “Jesus Among the Dead.” Now the misty clouds even spill over the frame on the lower left. The Bible and creeds make it clear where the dancing couple is headed. Soon Jesus will sit at the right hand of God.

“Jesus Returns to God” provides a gay vision of the Ascension, the transitional moment when the resurrected Christ left earth. Details vary, but all Biblical accounts agree that Jesus was with his followers when he was lifted up to heaven. Churches commemorate the event with the Feast of the Ascension forty days after Easter. Christian tradition emphasizes that the resurrected Jesus ascended bodily up into the clouds of heaven. Mortal human flesh was made radiant by becoming part of God. Therefore it is appropriate for this image to have a physical, erotic component, even though many viewers find it disturbing.

People tend to react strongly to this image. Some find it too sexual and recoil at the thought of “God’s hand on my butt.” (At least God has no body below the waist here!) Others welcome the painting because it removes the shame of sexuality, presenting queer love as holy. Sacred same-sex kisses are rarer in art than gay bashings, so the most daring part of Blanchard’s Passion series occurs here after Jesus dies. Holy gay kisses also upset people more than gay bashings. With this image Blanchard’s series truly becomes a “gay vision” as the title proclaims. There is no longer any doubt about whether Jesus was simply an ally of queer people. The full revelation of his gay sexual orientation does not happen in his lifetime, but is disclosed in the afterlife by Blanchard. Some people wish the series stopped right before this image. Others would prefer it started here.

Blanchard breaks new ground by combining the Ascension with the Christian concept of “mystical marriage” from a gay viewpoint, making this one of the most original paintings in the series. In Christian theology the Ascension serves to emphasize the reality of Jesus as both human and divine. It is seen as the consummation of God’s union with humanity. “Mystical marriage” is a separate Christian concept in which the love between God and people is compared to a human marriage, including the sexual ecstasy between bride and groom. Erotic union becomes a metaphor for union with God.

God appears here for the first time in Blanchard’s Passion series. The artist paints God with some extraordinary attributes: He has wings, wounds, and the same face as Jesus. It is unusual to see a painting of God with wings, even though there are several Biblical references to humanity being protected by or carried by God’s wings. Perhaps the wings here symbolize the presence of the Holy Spirit. Standard images show God and Jesus as father and son, but Blanchard makes them look like gay lovers or the same person in two places, further emphasizing his theme of God in solidarity with humanity. Usually only Jesus has crucifixion wounds, but here the all-powerful creator is also a wounded deity, injured by choosing mortality in order to show people the way to life.

The mystical marriage and “Christ the Bridegroom” are uncommon subjects in art history, but the Ascension has been painted many times over the centuries. Ascension images generally have two zones: a crowd of apostles watching from earth below and Christ rising up toward heaven above. Jesus is frequently shown with his right hand raised in a gesture of blessing. Sometimes just his feet are visible as he disappears into the clouds. Artists seldom depict only Jesus and God without the people below, as Blanchard does. A notable exception is the famed “Ascension” by 20th-century surrealist Salvador Dali, which is dominated by the soles of Jesus’ feet as he flies upward.

While it fits neatly into the Passion series, “Jesus Returns to God” can also stand alone as a gay-affirming vision of ecstatic union with God. The mixed response to the painting raises questions about how artists can visually code Jesus as queer without being too literal. Conservative Christians have made many LGBT people think of Jesus as their enemy. How far should an artist go to counteract that? For some viewers, anything more than a subtle hint is too sexually explicit or reduces the mystery of Christ to a billboard. Others need a boldly out-and-proud Jesus to prove that God loves LGBT folk. Blanchard strikes a balance by showing Jesus as an ordinary man swept up in a homoerotic dance with God.

“As the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.” -- Isaiah 62:5 (RSV)

Words and pictures cannot express all the bliss that Jesus felt when he returned to God. Some compare the joy of a soul’s union with the divine to sexual ecstasy in marriage. Perhaps for Jesus, it was a same-sex marriage. Jesus drank in the nectar of God’s breath and surrendered to the divine embrace. They mixed male and female in ineffable ways. Jesus became both Lover and Beloved as everything in him found in God its complement, its reflection, its twin. When they kissed, Jesus let holy love flow through him to bless all beings throughout timeless time. Love and faith touched; justice and peace kissed. The boundaries between Jesus and God disappeared and they became whole: one Heart, one Breath, One. We are all part of Christ’s body in a wedding that welcomes everyone.

Jesus, congratulations on your wedding day! Thank you for inviting me!

Bible background
Song of Songs: “O that you would kiss me with the kisses of your mouth!”

This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Wednesday, May 08, 2013

Julian of Norwich: Celebrating Mother Jesus

“Julian of Norwich” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM,

Julian of Norwich is a medieval English mystic who celebrated “Mother Jesus.” It’s not known if Julian herself was queer, but her ideas were. Julian is often listed with LGBT saints because of her genderbending visions of Jesus and God. Her feast day (May 8) always falls near Mother’s Day (May 12, 2013).

Her discussions of Jesus as a mother sound radical even now, more than 600 years later. In today’s understanding, Julian’s Jesus seems to be transgender! Her omnigendered vision of the Trinity fits with contemporary feminist and queer theology.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Julian of Norwich: Celebrating Mother Jesus

Mother’s Day is also a great time to honor mothers whose love for their gay children helped launch LGBT organizations, including: Jeanne Manford and Adele Starr, founders of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); and Edith “Mom” Perry of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC).

Julian of Norwich (c.1342-1416) is the first woman to write a book in English. The book, “Revelations of Divine Love,” recounts a series of 16 visions that she experienced from May 8-13, 1373 during a severe illness when she was 30 years old. The book includes Julian’s most famous saying, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” -- words spoken to her by God in one of Julian’s visions.

Julian of Norwich
from Wikimedia Commons

Later Julian went on to become an anchoress, a type of recluse who lives in a cell attached to a church and does contemplative prayer. Her hermit’s cell was at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich. The cell had two windows, one opening to the church and the other opening to the street. She became known throughout England for the spiritual counseling that she gave there.

Julian is considered the first Catholic to write at length about God as mother. Her profound ideas speak powerfully today to women and queer people of faith. “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” Julian wrote.

Here are a few short quotes from Julian’s extensive writings about “Mother Jesus”:

“So Jesus Christ who sets good against evil is our real Mother. We owe our being to him--and this is the essence of motherhood! --and all the delightful, loving protection which ever follows. God is as really our Mother as he is our Father.“ (Chapter 59)

“So Jesus is our true Mother by nature at our first creation, and he is our true Mother in grace by taking on our created nature.” (Chapter 59)

“A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most courteously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament, which is the precious food of life itself… The mother can lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender mother Jesus, he can familiarly lead us to his blessed breast through his sweet open side….” (Chapter 60)

These quotes come from modern English translations of “Revelations of Divine Love” by Elizabeth Spearing and Clifton Wolters. For longer quotations Click here.

The sacred feminine is just one of the many revelations that have endeared Julian to the public. She also uses objects from ordinary life to illustrate God’s loving, forgiving nature. For example, in one vision God shows Julian a small object like a hazel-nut in the palm of her hand. Julian writes:

“I looked at it and thought, 'What can this be?' And the answer came to me, 'It is all that is made.' I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer in my mind was, 'It lasts and will last forever because God loves it; and in the same way everything exists through the love of God'.” (Chapter 5)

In the icon at the top of this post, Julian looks out the window of her cell with her beloved cat. As an anchoress, she probably lived alone. It is said that the only other being to share her room was a cat -- for the practical purpose of keeping it free from rats and mice. A longstanding legend tells of Julian’s friendship with her cat companion. The icon was painted by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar based in New York. Known for his innovative icons, he was rebuked by the church for painting LGBT saints and God as female.

Julian lived a long life. The date of her death is unknown, but records show that she was still alive at age 73 to receive an inheritance. She was never formally canonized, but Julian is considered a saint by popular devotion. The Episcopal and Lutheran Churches keep her feast day on May 8.

Related link:
Juliana de Norwich: Celebración de la Madre Jesús (Santos Queer)
Related links for Mother's Day:
Jeanne Manford: PFLAG founder loved her gay son

Adele Starr and others: Patron saints for straight allies of LGBT people

Edith “Mom” Perry, mother of Troy Perry and first heterosexual member of the Metropolitan Community Churches
This post is part of the LGBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes 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 Julian of Norwich and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at


Thursday, May 02, 2013

Reclaiming sainthood: Gay artist Tony O’Connell finds holiness in LGBT people and places

“Saint Ryan, Patron of Learning the Arts” by Tony O’Connell

British artist Tony O’Connell documents the sacred side of queer people and places. He takes photos of saintly moments among ordinary LGBT people and records his own pilgrimages to LGBT historical sites.

“My initial idea was an attempt to reclaim the idea of holiness as a gay artist,” O’Connell says. Based in Liverpool, he was raised in the Roman Catholic tradition, but has been a practicing Buddhist since 1995.

“The intention was to democratize the notion of sacredness and the process of canonization. We do not need the permission of anyone else to see perfection in each other,” he explains.

Since 1998 he has been photographing people with haloes formed by round objects from daily life: light fixtures, mirrors, windows, baskets, the sun -- and even life ring buoys. “The act of noticing the moment where a physical circle as a symbol of a halo was present is an artistic parallel to noticing those qualities in the real people themselves,” O’Connell says.

He started with portraits of himself with haloes, and then expanded to his partner and LGBT friends. Eventually he included straight allies and strangers as he took the halo concept to its logical conclusion. “The images are just examples of something that is present in them, in you, in me and in all,” he explains.

Religions traditionally use the halo to denote people of exceptional saintliness or perfection, implying that others are less worthy. “It strikes me as truer and more logical to recognize that every consciousness has the potential for some growth toward light, be that internal or external,” O’Connell says. “If only one could glimpse or even capture the fleeting instance of perfection, compassion and wisdom in ordinary experience which are easy to overlook. If such moments could be recorded on the snap-shot camera or the phone in the pocket, would anyone believe them?”

None of the saints in his photos have been recognized by the church yet. But O’Connell did convince famous LGBT activist Peter Tatchell to pose for a quick halo portrait after a lecture on the plight of LGBT people in Iraq.

LGBT rights activisit Peter Tatchell appears in “Saint Peter the Protector” by Tony O’Connell

In 2008 O’Connell began displaying the saint photos in churches and other small venues at exhibitions named “Perfectly Ordinary” and “Be in that Number.” Some churches complemented the images with Gregorian chants playing in the background and frankincense fragrance in the air.

O’Connell’s saint photos will be shown in America at the “Sacred Voices” exhibit at the Canton Museum of Art in Canton, Ohio from Dec. 5, 2013 to March 2, 2014. It features contemporary Christian, Jewish, and Muslim artists who are seeking to express their faith through their art.

“Prostrations at the Holy Places and Veneration to Our Martyrs (Stonewall Pilgrimage)” by Tony O’Connell shows the artist praying at the bar where the LGBT rights movement began.

Recently O’Connell began a new series on LGBT pilgrimages, which he does as performances recorded in photos. He travels to places of importance in LGBT history, treating the trip as a pilgrimage to the shrine of a saint. His first pilgrimage led to the San Francisco Metro station named after slain gay rights leader Harvey Milk. “The traditional Buddhist offerings for saints and Bodhisattvas are water, food, perfume, incense and flowers so I took them to his shrine and made prostrations,” O’Connell said.

Earlier this year he made a pilgrimage to New York City's Stonewall Inn, where rebellion against police harassment in 1969 launched the modern LGBT liberation movement. His next destination is Manchester, England. He plans to leave offerings on a memorial bench there dedicated Alan Turing, a gay computer scientist driven to suicide by attempts to “cure” his homosexuality.

In the future O’Connell plans to do icons as tributes to well known LGBT figures such as Milk, Turing and AIDS activist Larry Kramer.

The following images are selected from more than 200 saint photos taken by O’Connell. All of the saints in these pictures are openly lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender. While the artist’s ultimate purpose is to show that sainthood is non-exclusive, the Jesus in Love Blog is highlighting only LGBT saints here in order to balance centuries of religious oppression against queer people.

“Saint Antoinette Who Comforts the Sorrowful and Gives Courage” by Tony O’Connell honors a caring friend. Saint Antoinette and her partner Saint Lindsay helped the artist through the grief of losing his mother.

“Liberated Being (Saint Tony Travels to the Land of the Free)” by Tony O’Connell is a self-portrait of the artist on the way to Ellis Island. He stands back-to-back with another liberated being in the distance: The Statue of Liberty.

“Saint Lindsay Filled with Joy by a Vision of the Rainbow Covenant with Heaven” by Tony O’Connell shows a friend who chose her own halo for this portrait on the waterfront in Liverpool.

“Saint Kevin and Saint Tony on the Feast of Sergius and Bacchus” by Tony O’Connell shows the artist on the right with his partner Kevin. It is one of his rare diptych images of paired saints. The double-halo composition echoes a 7th-century icon of Saints Sergius and Bacchus.

This post is part of the Artists series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series profiles artists who use lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) and queer spiritual and religious imagery.

Traditional and alternative saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered in the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry.

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