Monday, August 29, 2016

“Two Natures” explores sexuality and spirituality during AIDS crisis

A gay fashion photographer who was raised Southern Baptist moves to New York City for a sexual and spiritual odyssey during the AIDS crisis of the early 1990s in “Two Natures” by Jendi Reiter.

This stylish debut novel from a gifted poet is a rare combination of erotic gay romance and intelligent reflection on Christian faith. Narrator Julian Selkirk seeks glamor and often-fleeting affairs to replace the religion that rejected him. He learns by experience to look beyond shame, surface attractions and short-term desires.

In the five-year period covered chronologically by the novel, he has relationships with three men who embody different archetypes: immature personal trainer Phil Shanahan, cosmopolitan editor Richard Molineux, and earnest activist Peter Edelman.

The dense and varied literary coming-of-age novel ranges from comic scenes that could easily become a hit movie to the explicitly sexual and the touchingly tragic. Reiter brings alive LGBTQ touchstones of the era: the visit from out-of-town and out-of-it parents to their closeted son, the AIDS death and awkward funeral, and so on.

Jendi Reiter is a first-class poet and essayist, and her Reiter’s Block is one of my all-time favorite blogs. While reading "Two Natures," I sometimes wished for more of her incisive interpretations rather than her narrator’s witty voice leaving the reader to draw their own conclusions.

Female characters and experiences such as abortion are also portrayed well in “Two Natures.” Perhaps this is not surprising for an author who recently came out as a “genderqueer femme” on her blog.

Raised by two mothers on the Lower East Side of New York City, Reiter is able to portray New York with the casual realism of a native. Now living in western Massachusetts, she is a member of the Episcopal church and experienced first-hand how LGBTQ issues tore apart church groups, including the writing group where she was working on the earliest drafts of “Two Natures.”

Religious references in her novel are subtle… as are the allusions to AIDS in most of the first half of the 376-page novel. Julian finds no easy answers as he wrestles with his faith.

The title is based upon the two natures of Christ, who is fully human and fully divine in the eyes of believers. Julian observes:

If what the preachers said about Christ's two natures was true, I didn't know how he could stand his life anyhow, being split down the middle between the part of him that remembered heaven and the human part that would have touched me back.

I did find myself wondering sometimes whether gay men actually thought like her narrator Julian. I dared to explore this same challenging territory myself, writing as a lesbian author from the viewpoint of a queer male Christ in my “Jesus in Love” novels.

I can only say that “Two Natures” got rave reviews from gay male reviewers whom I respect. Toby Johnson called it “a pleasure to read” and Amos Lassen declared, “We all know someone like Julian and many of us see ourselves in him… You owe it to yourselves to read this wonderful novel.”

As art historian, I especially enjoyed the way that some of Julian’s spiritual reflections were provoked by art. For instance, Julian’s inner spiritual conflict is portrayed at first through his responses to “Piss Christ,” a controversial photograph by Andres Serrano. A stylist book trailer also gives sophisticated visual form to the story with public domain archival photos.

The novel is also significant as an example of how a new generation tries to make sense of an AIDS crisis that they were too young to experience firsthand. I happened to read “Two Natures” at the same time that I was rereading my own journals for an oral history interview about doing AIDS ministry at Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco in the late 1980s. Perhaps no novel can capture the agony, ecstasy and desperate intensity of those times.

Julian never found the kind of LGBTQ-affirming church home that we provided at MCC-SF. Sadly that may be true for many young gay men in the early 1990s, and even now. But there’s good news: Reiter is already working on a sequel. Julian will have another chance to find long-term love and a gay-positive spiritual community, with readers invited along for the ride.

Available now to preorder at Amazon

Two Natures
By Jendi Reiter
Paperback: 376 pages
Publisher: Saddle Road Press
Publication date: Sept. 15, 2016
ISBN: 978-0996907422

Friday, August 26, 2016

Black Madonna becomes lesbian defender: Erzuli Dantor and Our Lady of Czestochowa

The Black Madonna of Czestochowa, one of the most famous Catholic icons, is the model for a Haitian Vodou goddess who protects lesbians.

Traditional images of Erzulie Dantor, the Vodou defender of lesbians, are based on the Black Madonna of Czestochowa, whose feast day is today (Aug. 26). They even share the same two scars on the dark skin of the right cheek.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Black Madonna of Czestochowa becomes lesbian defender Erzuli Dantor

Aug. 26 also happens to be Women’s Equality Day -- the date when women got the right to vote in the United States back in 1920.

Every year more than 100,000 people view the original Black Madonna of Czestochowa icon in Poland at one of the most popular Catholic shrines on the planet. John Paul II, the Polish pope, was devoted to her. Few suspect that the revered icon of the Blessed Virgin Mary has a lesbian connection.

Our Lady of Czestochowa is among dozens of Black Madonna icons remaining from medieval Europe. The reason for their dark skin is unknown, but people speculate that the images may have been created black to match the color of indigenous people or they turned black due to smoke and aging. Some see her dark skin as a metaphor for the earth or a reference to the lover in Song of Songs who declared, “I am black but beautiful.”

Black Madonnas are said to embody the shadow side of the Divine Feminine, the unconscious and unpredictable aspects that are usually buried or kept in darkness. Erzulie Dantor reveals Mary’s hidden bonds with lesbians.

Legend says that the Czestochowa portrait of Mary was painted by Saint Luke the Evangelist while she told him the stories about Jesus that he later wrote in his gospel. The icon traveled from Jerusalem through Turkey and Ukraine, ending up in Poland in 1382. The painting is considered so important that it even has its own feast day: Aug. 26, the date that it was installed at its current home. In the 15th century looters pried two jewels off her cheek, leaving a characteristic pair of marks.

Events in Haiti soon took Our Lady of Czestochowa in a new direction. In the 18th century hundreds of thousands of slaves were brought from Africa to Haiti, where they were forced to do heavy labor and convert to Christianity. Through the process of syncretism, they developed a hybrid form of Christianity mixed with Vodou, an ancestral folk religion from West Africa.

Copies of the Black Madonna of Czestochowa were brought to Haiti by about 5,000 Polish soldiers who fought on both sides of the Haitian Revolution starting in 1802. She was transformed into Erzulie Dantor when Haitians merged her with Vodou.

Erzulie Dantor is a loa or lwa (Vodou spirit) who is recognized as a patron of lesbians. Her name has many alternate spellings such as Ezili Danto. She fiercely loves and defends women and children, especially lesbians, independent businesswomen, unwed mothers, and those who experience domestic violence. She has a reputation for taking revenge on abusive husbands and unfaithful lovers. Scar-faced warrior Erzulie Dantor liberated slaves by helping to start and win the Haitian Revolution. She is fond of knives, rum and unfiltered cigarettes.

“Erzulie Dantor” by Christie Freeman (

Like Our Lady of Czestochowa, she holds a child with a book. But instead of the infant Jesus with the gospels, the baby on her lap is her daughter Anais. The Catholic Church in Haiti identifies these images as neither Erzulie Dantor nor Mary, but “Saint Barbara Africana.” Erzulie Dantor is a single mother who has given birth, but some believe she is bisexual or lesbian herself.

The two scars on her cheek are explained either as tribal scarification or wounds from a fight with Erzulie Freda, her light-skinned and coquettishly feminine sister. Erzulie Freda, the goddess of love and sexuality, is the patron of gay men, especially drag queens and those who are effeminate. She is associated with images of the grieving Mary as Our Lady of Sorrows.

Erzulie Dantor and Erzulie Freda are among many Vodou spirits who appear to be LGBT, androgynous or queer. Many others are described in detail in “Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Participation in African-Inspired Traditions in the Americas” by Randy P. Conner and David Hatfield Sparks.

These queer Vodou deities include La Sirene, a pansexual mermaid who rules the seas; La Balen, her mysterious butch lesbian intimate companion who is often depicted as a whale; transgender divinity Mawu-Lisa, patron of artists and craftspeople; androgynous Legba, a Christ figure who mediates between the living and the dead; Ayido Wedo and Danbala, a married pair of queer rainbow serpents who bring prosperity, joy and peace; the sexually complex Gede family that oversees the transition to the afterlife; and many more. Each loa or spirit can possess or engage in spiritual marriage with Vodou practitioners of either gender, leading to many queer possibilities.

Black Madonna figures continue to inspire folk artists and fine artists such as Christie Freeman of Springfield, Illinois, who shares her painting here at the Jesus in Love Blog. One of the best known and most controversial contemporary versions is the 1996 painting “The Holy Virgin Mary” by British artist Chris Ofili. He surrounded a stylized black Madonna with mixed media including elephant dung and images from pornography and blaxploitation movies. While using shock value to critique definitions of sacred and profane, he enraged the religious right.

“Erzulie and Devotee” by Brandon Buehring

Artist Brandon Buehring sketched a contemporary “Erzulie and Devotee” in his “Legendary Love: A Queer History Project.” He uses pencil sketches and essays “to remind queer people and our allies of our sacred birthright as healers, educators, truth-tellers, spiritual leaders, warriors and artists.” The project features 20 sketches of queer historical and mythological figures from many cultures around the world. He has a M.Ed. degree in counseling with an LGBT emphasis from North Carolina State University in Raleigh. He works in higher education administration as well as being a freelance illustrator based in Northampton, Massachusetts.

Throughout history some church officials have attacked images such as Erzulie Dantor as illegitimate and incompatible with Christianity. But many Haitian Christians today see Vodou as a way to enhance their faith. Meanwhile Our Lady of Czestochowa is celebrated for revealing the dark face of God’s own mother.
Related links:

Black Madonnas and other Mysteries of Mary” by Ella Rozett (

Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon (Jesus in Love)

Mary, Diana and Artemis: Feast of Assumption has lesbian goddess roots (Jesus in Love)

Christianity and Vodou (Wikipedia)

Read online: “Queering Creole Spiritual Traditions: Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Participation in African-Inspired Traditions in the Americas” by Randy P. Conner and David Hatfield Sparks

To read this article in Polish translation, visit the Don’t Shoot the Prophet website:
Czarna Madonna zostaje obrończynią lesbijek: Erzuli Dantor i Matka Boża Częstochowska

Related books:
The Moonlit Path: Reflections on the Dark Feminine” edited by Fred Gustafson (9 of 16 essays are on the Black Madonna with authors such as theologian Matthew Fox)

Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie,” edited by Susan Perry, includes many black Madonnas in an art book to nourish devotion to Mary with reflections by diverse women.

Mother of God Similar to Fire” with icons by William Hart McNichols and reflections by Mirabai Starr presents a wide of variety of liberating icons of Mary, including a black Madonna. McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been rebuked by church leaders for making icons of LGBT-affirming martyrs and saints not approved by the church.

Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology” by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow. Two pioneering leaders in the study of women and religion discuss the nature of God / Goddess.

Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary” by cultural historian Marina Warner shows how the figure of Mary was shaped by goddess legends and other historical circumstances, resulting in an inferior status for women.

Top images, left: Ezili Danto Prayer Card from the Vodou Store. Right: The original Black Madonna of Czestochowa

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Bayard Rustin: Gay saint of civil rights and non-violence

Bayard Rustin was a black gay man and chief organizer of the influential 1963 Civil Rights March on Washington. A follower of the Quaker faith with its pacifist tradition, he brought Gandhi-style non-violent protest techniques to the movement for racial equality and become a close advisor to Martin Luther King. Today is the anniversary of his death on Aug. 24, 1987 at age 75.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Bayard Rustin: Gay saint of racial justice and non-violence

Rustin was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the nation's highest civilian honor, in a White House ceremony in 2013. “For decades, this great leader, often at Dr. King's side, was denied his rightful place in history because he was openly gay. No medal can change that, but today, we honor Bayard Rustin's memory by taking our place in his march towards true equality, no matter who we are or who we love,” President Obama said when he presented the medal for Rustin.

Bayard Rustin
Pushed into the background because he was openly gay in a more homophobic era, Rustin has been called “an invisible hero,” “a lost prophet” and “Brother Outsider.”  He summed up his philosophy when he said, “We need, in every community, a group of angelic troublemakers.”  He is honored here as a gay saint.

Rustin (Mar.17, 1912 - Aug. 24, 1987) rarely served as a public spokesperson for civil rights because he was openly gay at a time when homosexuality was criminalized and stigmatized. His sexuality was criticized by both segregationists and some fellow workers in the peace and civil-rights movements. In the 1970s he began to advocate publicly for lesbian and gay causes.

From 1955-68 Rustin was a leading strategist for the African American civil rights movement. His decades of achievements include helping launch the first Freedom Rides in 1947, when civil disobedience was used to fight racial segregation on buses. He helped organize the Southern Christian Leadership Conference and much more.

Rustin’s sexual orientation became publicly known in 1953, when he was arrested for homosexual activity in Pasadena, California. He pleaded guilty to a charge of consensual “sex perversion” (sodomy) and served 60 days in jail. It was not his first stint in jail. He had been arrested before for his pacifist refusal to participate in World War II and he served on a chain gang for breaking Jim Crow laws requiring racial segregation on public transportation.

Mug shot of Bayard Rustin (Wikimedia Commons) taken for failure to report for his Selective Service physical exam

Rustin saw the connections between racial justice, women’s equality and LGBT rights. He made it vividly clear in a controversial speech to the Philadelphia chapter of Black and White Men Together on March 1, 1986. The speech, titled “The New ‘N*s’ are Gays,” is one of several pieces about LGBT rights in his book Time on Two Crosses: The Collected Writings of Bayard Rustin. Rustin states:

“Today, blacks are no longer the litmus paper or the barometer of social change. Blacks are in every segment of society and there are laws that help to protect them from racial discrimination. The new “n*s” are gays. … It is in this sense that gay people are the new barometer for social change. … The question of social change should be framed with the most vulnerable group in mind: gay people.”

The following year Rustin died of a ruptured pancreas on Aug. 24, 1987. Late August is also significant for him because the March on Washington held on Aug. 28, 1963. Organized by Rustin, the March was where King gave his famous “I Have a Dream” speech. An estimated 250,000 people attended, making it the largest demonstration held in the U.S. capital until that time. The full synthesis of Rustin’s black and gay identities -- the “two crosses” of his book title -- came as the culmination of a life well lived.

The play “Blueprints to Freedom: An Ode to Bayard Rustin,” starring and written by Michael Benjamin Washington, premiered in fall 2015. It was a co-production of the Kansas City Repertory Theatre and La Jolla Playhouse in California. Set in summer 1963, it shows how his gay orientation was considered a public relations problem when Rustin is planning the march. Other characters include King and Rustin’s ex-lover Davis Platt. Washington discusses Rustin as a lost prophet and American hero in a YouTube video preview of the play.

A campaign is underway to convince the U.S. Postal Servie to honor Rustin with a postage stamp.

Walter Naegle was Rustin’s life partner from 1977 until his death a decade later. As executor and archivist for the Bayard Rustin estate, Naegle continues to promote Rustin’s legacy by organizing programs and providing materials for books and exhibits on Rustin’s amazing life.

Rustin’s biography is told in the film Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin and books such as Lost Prophet: The Life and Times of Bayard Rustin by historian John D’Emilio. The book "I Must Resist: Bayard Rustin’s Life in Letters", edited by Michael Long was a 2013 finalist for a Lambda Literary Award.  A chapter on Bayard Rustin by Patricia Nell Warren is included in the 2015 book “The Right Side of History: 100 Years of LGBTQI Activism.”

Rustin appears against a quilted background reminiscent of a rainbow flag in a tapestry portrait by queer Chicana autistic artist Sabrina Zarco. “The implied rainbow and words in the clouds in this work speak to the many causes for which he worked and his love of all things hand made by marginalized artists,” Zarco said in her artist’s statement. “His necktie with musical notes is a nod to his love of music and time as a musician. He wears the 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom on his chest.” The original artwork was unveiled at a National Black Justice Coalition event after Naegle accepted Bayard's medal. It is now in the private collection of black LGBT activist Mandy Carter, cofounder of the coalition. The image is available for purchase at the artist’s online store.

In the another image, Rustin and Naegle hold hands as an interracial gay couple on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. It was created by artist Ryan Grant Long for his “Fairy Tales” series of gay historical figures. For more on Long, see my previous post Artist paints history’s gay couples: Interview with Ryan Grant Long.

“Bayard Rustin - Pride” by Sean J. Randall

A different kind of rainbow portrait created by Portland artist Sean J. Randall. He adds rainbow colors to Rustin’s mug shot to emphasize his gay pride.
Related links:

Walter Naegle, Activist Bayard Rustin’s Partner, On Rustin’s Enduring Legacy (Lambda Literary)

For Bayard Rustin’s partner, an effort to preserve legacy (Washington Post)

Bayard Rustin: One of the Tallest Trees in Our Forest by Irene Monroe (Huffington Post)

Top image credts:

Detail from “Bayard Rustin” art quilt by Sabrina Zarco

“Bayard Rustin and Walter Naegle” by Ryan Grant Long

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Saints Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy: Honey-tongued abbot and the archbishop he loved

“Bernard of Clairvaux” by Rowan Lewgalon

See how I yearn, and longing turn to Thee!
Yield to my love, and draw me unto Thee!
--Bernard of Clairvaux

Bernard of Clairvaux was a medieval French abbot who wrote homoerotic poetry about Jesus 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 Aug. 20 (today).

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy: Abbot and the archbishop he loved

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 advisor 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.

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

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” (quoted below), 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.”

Bernard of Clairvaux’s legacy is a mixed blessing for contemporary progressive readers because he also helped rally soldiers to kill Muslims in the Second Crusade and undermined the work of theologian Peter Abelard, a champion of reason. 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.

Bernard was born to a noble family in 1090 on the outskirts of Dijon in Burgundy. According to legend, his mother had a dream during her pregnancy that a white puppy was barking in her womb. This was interpreted to mean that she would give birth to God’s watchdog. The white dog became one of Bernard’s attributes, a symbol used in images of the saint.

Bernard and a white dog, both with icy blue eyes, appear together in a striking contemporary portrait by Rowan Lewgalon. She is a spiritual artist based in Germany and a cleric in the Old Catholic Apostolic Church.

When Bernard was 19, his mother died and he decided to join a small new community that had just started in the area. They were called the Cistercians, and their aim was to reform monasticism with a return to the more austere rules of St. Benedict. Within three years Bernard was sent to found a monastery nearby in a place whose name has become part of his own: Clairvaux.

About 25 years later Bernard met Malachy (whose Irish name is Maelmhaedhoc O’Morgair). He was primate of all Ireland when he first visited Clairvaux around 1139. Bernard was nearly 50 years old and Malachy was four years younger. They soon became devoted, passionate friends. Malachy even asked the Pope for permission to become a Cistercian, but the Pope refused.

Malachy traveled to see Bernard again in 1142. They were so close that Bernard covered him with kisses in a scene that is described well by Orthodox priest Richard Cleaver in “Know My Name: A Gay Liberation Theology”: “Bernard's account makes deeply romantic reading for a modern gay man. “Oscula rui,” Bernard says of their reunion: “I showered him with kisses.”

Their relationship had lasted almost a decade when Malachy reunited with Bernard for the third and final time. Malachy fell sick when he arrived in Clairvaux in 1148. He died in Bernard’s arms on All Soul’s Day, Nov. 2. Again Cleaver tells the details based on accounts by Geoffrey, Bernard’s secretary and traveling companion:

“Geoffrey of Auxerre tells us what happened later. Bernard put on the habit taken from Malachy's body as it was being prepared for burial at Clairvaux, and we wore it to celebrate the funeral mass. He chose to sing not a requiem mass but the mass of a confessor bishop: a personal canonization and, incidentally, an example of using liturgy to do theology. Bernard himself was later buried next to Malachy, in Malachy’s habit. For Bernard, as for us today, this kind of passionate love for another human being was an indispensable channel for experiencing the God of love.”

After Malachy’s death Bernard lived on for another five years. He forbid sculptures and paintings at the monastery during his lifetime, but by the late 15th century the altarpiece at the Clairvaux Abbey had a painting of Christ’s baptism jointly witnessed by Bernard and Malachy.

Bernard died on Aug. 20, 1153 at age 63. He was buried at the Clairvaux Abbey next to Malachy, wearing Malachy’s habit. He had lived for 40 years in community with other men whose loving relations with each other brought them closer to God.

“Bernard of Clairvaux” by Tobias Haller

“Bernard of Clairvaux” was sketched as an intense man with a rusty beard 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 spouse 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 prayer written by Bernard’s secretary Geoffrey shows how the community at Clairvaux understood and celebrated the man-to-man love between Bernard and Malachy. He thanks God for these “two stars of such surpassing brightness” and “twofold treasure.”

As a monk, Bernard naturally directed much of his erotic energy toward Jesus Christ. This attitude is beautifully expressed in his poem “Salve Mundi Salutare” (Savior of the World, I Greet You). He wrote seven sections, each addressed to a different parts of Jesus’ crucified body: his feet, knees, hands, side, chest, face, and finally his heart.

The poem is traditionally attributed to Bernard of Clairvaux, although some modern scholars believe it may have been written by another Cistercian abbot, Arnulf of Leuven. It is also known as the “Oratio rhythmica ad singula membra Christi a cruce pendentis” (Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members of Jesus Hanging on the Cross), or more simply as the Rhythmica oratio.

The original poem, in all its erotic glory, is generally not included in books that collect Bernard’s “essential writings.” It lives on in ancient, hard-to-find editions and heavily edited versions and translations that remove much of the homoeroticism and sometimes even add heterosexual references that are absent from Bernard’s original Latin. The original is also blessedly free from churchy terms like “Lord,” speaking only of the love between “I” and “thou.”

The poem is the basis for important musical works such as the hymn “O Sacred Head, Now Wounded” and the Baroque oratorio “Membra Jesu Nostri” (usually translated as “The Limbs of Our Jesus”) written by Baroque Danish composer Dieterich Buxtehude in 1680, more than 500 years after Bernard died. The cycle of seven cantatas is considered to be the first Lutheran oratorio. The entire oratorio can be heard on video at this link.

The rapture of this poem is expressed in the painting at the top of this post: “Christ Embracing St. Bernard” by Francisco Ribalta. The Spanish Baroque artist apparently painted this masterpiece for the Carthusian monastery of Porta Coeli in Valencia, Spain around 1625.

The website for Spain’s Prado Museum in Madrid, where it is now housed, states: “The scene is based on one of the saint’s mystical visions, drawn from one of the most popular religious books of the Baroque era: Pedro de Ribadeneyra’s ‘Flos Sanctorum’ or ‘Book of the Lives of the Saints,’ published in 1599.”

The whole poem contains 74 verses of five lines each -- way too many to reproduce here. But it is extremely hard to find, so a selection of the more erotic, lesser known verses are reproduced here in the original Latin with an English translation from by Emily Mary Shapcote. Her translation was published in the 1881 book “St. Bonaventure’s Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” The online version of that book contains the entire poem in its appendix.

In a few cases a computer-generated English translation is also included here because it captures the directness and immediacy of the original. Much of the homoeroticism is implicit in the fact that this love poem was written by one man to another -- from Bernard to Jesus with love.

References to this poem and numerous paintings of Bernard with Christ are included in a whole chapter devoted to Bernard in the 2013 book “Saintly Brides and Bridegrooms: The Mystic Marriage in Renaissance Art” by Carolyn D. Muir, art professor at the University of Hong Kong.


To the Hands
Ad Manus

O Jesus, place Thy sacred Hands on me,
With transport let me kiss them tenderly,
With groans and tears embrace them fervently;
And, O for these deep wounds I worship Thee;
And for the blessed drops that fall on me.

Manus sanctse vos amplector,
Et gemendo condelector,
Grates ago plangis tantis
Clavis duris, guttis sanctis,
Dans lacrymas cum osoulis

To the Side
Ad Latus

Lord, with my mouth I touch and worship Thee,
With all the strength I have I cling to Thee,
With all my love I plunge my heart in Thee,
My very life-blood would I draw from Thee,
Jesus, Jesus I draw me into Thee.

Google translate version:
You happen to my mouth,
And I ardently embrace
SOAK you in my heart,
And a warm heart, tongue,
Me all over you.

Ore meo te contingo,
Et ardenter ad me stringo
In te meum cor intingo,
Et ferventi corde lingo,
Me totum in te traiice.

To the Breast
Ad Pectus

Abyss of wisdom from eternity,
The harmonies of angels worship Thee;
Entrancing sweetness flows, Breast, from Thee
John tasted it as he lay rapt on Thee;
Grant me thus that I may dwell in Thee.

Tu abyssus es sophise,
Angelorum harmonise
Te collaudant, ex te fluxit
Quod Joannes Cubans suxit,
In te fac ut iuliabitem.

To the Heart
Ad Cor

O sinner as I am, I come to Thee;
My very vitals throb and call for Thee;
O Love, sweet love, draw hither unto me!
O Heart of Love, my heart would ravished be,
And sicken with the wound of love for Thee!

Per medullam cordis mei,
Peccatoris atque rei,
Tuus amor transferatur,
Quo cor totum rapiatur,
Languens amoris vuluere.

Dilate and open, Heart of love, for me,
And like a rose of wond'rous fragrance be,
Sweet Heart of love, united unto me;
Anoint and pierce my heart, O Love, with Thee,
How can he suffer, Lord, who loveth Thee?

Google Translate version:
Spread, open,
Wonderfully smelling like a rose,
Join you in my heart,
MARK and anoint it,
Who does what he loves you!

Dilatare, aperire,
Tanquam rosa fragrans mire,
Cordi meo te conjunge,
Unge illud et compunge,
Qui amat te quid patitur!

Mv living heart, O Love, cries out for Thee;
With all its strength, O Love, my soul loves Thee;
O Heart of Love, incline Thou unto me,
That I with burning love may turn to Thee,
And with devoted breast recline on Thee.

Viva cordis voce clamo,
Dulce cor, te namque amo;
Ad cor meum inclinare,
Ut se possit applicare,
Devoto tibi pectore.

Thou Rose of wondrous fragrance, open wide,
And bring my heart into Thy wounded Side,
O sweet Heart, open! Draw Thy loving bride,
All panting with desires intensified,
And satisfy her love unsatisfied.

Rosa cordis aperire,
Cujus odor fragrat mire,
Te dignare dilitare,
Fac cor meum anhelare,
Flam ma desiderii.

[Note that the original Latin has absolutely no references to brides or any gender at all. This is the only verse quoted here that is also included in Buxtehude’s oratorio “Membra Jesu Nostri”.]

O Jesus, draw my heart within Thy Breast,
That it may be by Thee alone possessed.
O Love, in that sweet pain it would find rest,
In that entrancing sorrow would be blest,
And lose itself in joy upon Thy Breast.

Google Translate version:
Put in your pocket
Heart, that you should take a neighbor,
Joyful in pain,
With ugly and beautiful
That hardly contain himself.

Infer tuum intra sinum
Cor, ut tibi sit vicinum,
In dolore gaudioso,
Cum deformi specioso,
Quod vix seipsum capiat.
*Quotation at the top is Shapekote's translation of:
Cordis mei Cor dilectum,
In te meum fer aflectum,
Hoc est quod opto plurimum.

Direct translation:
Heart of my heart, beloved,
You bring in my feelings,
This is what I love most.

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
San Bernardo de Claraval y San Malaquías: "el doctor meloso" y el arzobispo a quien amaba
It includes an original Latin-to-Spanish translation of the poem exclusively for Santos Queer by an important professor in Argentina: Dr. Luis Angel Sanchez, Professor of Latin Language and Culture at the University of Cordoba.
Related links:
Catholic Queer Families: SS Bernard of Clairvaux and Malachy (Queering the Church)

St. Bernard of Clairvaux’s Life of Saint Malachy of Armagh (full text)

Rhythmical Prayer to the Sacred Members of Jesus Hanging Upon the Cross” by Bernard of Clairvaux. Full text in Latin and English. (scroll down to find is as an appendix of “St. Bonaventure's Life of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ”)

Life of St. Malachy by Bernard of Clairvaux

Malachy of Armagh: Same-sex soulmate to Bernard of Clairvaux (Jesus in Love)
This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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

Thursday, August 18, 2016

“Womansword” by Kittredge Cherry will be published by Stone Bridge Press

Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women” by Jesus in Love founder Kittredge Cherry will be published in a 30th anniversary edition on Nov. 15 by Stone Bridge Press.

The book provides a portrait of Japanese womanhood with linguistic, sociological, and historical insight into issues central to the lives of women everywhere. The New York Times praised it as “extraordinarily revealing.”

Before she became a minister and launched the Jesus in Love Blog, Cherry studied in Japan on a Rotary International Journalism scholarship at Kobe College and International Christian University in Tokyo. She wrote about Japan for many publications, including Newsweek and the Wall Street Journal. Cherry holds degrees in journalism, art history, and religion. She continues to blog on Japan at her new website,

Cherry's unusual journey from Japan journalism to LGBTQ ministry is one of the subjects she discusses in the introduction to the 30th anniversary edition. The new introduction also highlights many revealing, useful, and fun new woman-related words that entered the Japanese language in the last three decades. It shows how things have—and haven't—changed.

Michael Bronski, professor in the department of women, gender and sexuality studies at Harvard, has endorsed “Womansword” as well as Cherry’s more recent books on LGBTQ Christian themes.

“Kitt Cherry has a long, storied career balancing and brokering the values of tradition with the excitement of the modern,” Bronski said. “‘Womansword’ charts, though evolving language, changes that have radically transformed Japanese women – and Japan -- for decades. From tom-boy fashion ("Prince Lolita") to national discussions of a possible female emperor, Cherry captures the vibrancy of the new Japan. This book is a vital read for feminists, linguists, and everyone interested in how culture changes.”

Bronski has written extensively on culture, gender, sexuality and politics, including “A Queer History of the United States,” winner of the Lambda Literary Award for non-fiction.

Thirty years after its first publication, "Womansword" remains a timely, provocative work on how words reflect female roles in modern Japan. Short, lively essays cover identity, girlhood, marriage, motherhood, work, sexuality, and aging.

Emerging trends in Japanese culture, for example, have brought high-achieving “science-women” and opened the way for the androgynous “x-gender.” The Japanese government began promoting “womenomics.” Three decades ago Japanese women hurried to find a husband by age 25 to avoid becoming stale “Christmas cakes.” Now they wait longer to marry, but still risk being called “New Year’s Eve noodles” if they don’t wed by age 31. “Maternity marks” help them navigate pregnancy, while “retirement divorces” are on the rise.

The book will be available in digital format as an e-book for the first time in its 30-year history.

The New York Times gave “Womansword” a glowing review on Feb 7, 1988:

“A very graceful, erudite job… Brief essays that are packed with interesting linguistic, sociological and historical details about Japanese women and the words that describe them … Insights that will enlighten those readers who know nothing about Japanese women and those who do know something, those who do not speak Japanese and those who do. Many of the expressions Ms. Cherry presents are extraordinarily revealing.”

The new edition is also recommended by Ayako Kano, associate professor of East Asian Languages and Civilizations at the University of Pennsylvania.

“After three decades, ‘Womansword’ still cuts to the core of gender dynamics in Japanese society. With a new Introduction giving us updates on various topics and a plethora of recent words, this book remains one of the most accessible and intriguing guides to the status of women in Japanese society,” says Kano. She is the author of “Japanese Feminist Debates: A Century of Contention on Sex, Love, and Labor.”

Cherry’s specialties include writing about women’s issues, language, culture, sexuality, religion and communication. Her books have been translated into Chinese, German, Japanese, and Polish. She holds degrees in journalism, art history, and religion.

Stone Bridge Press was established in Berkeley, California, in 1989. It has some 150 titles in print, covering such Japan- and Asia-related areas as language, business, literature, manga, design, and culture.

“Stone Bridge is the right press for the new edition of ‘Womansword’ both because of its excellence in publishing Japan books and because its founder Peter Goodman was present for the creation of the original version at Kodansha International 30 years ago,” Cherry said.

“Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women” (30th anniversary edition) is available now for pre-order.

“Womansword: What Japanese Words Say About Women”
Print ISBN: 978-1611720297
Ebook ISBN: 9781-611729191
$19.95 / $25.99 CAN|176 pages| Trim 5.50 x 8.50

Pre-Order now from Amazon.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Mary, Diana and Artemis: Feast of Assumption has lesbian goddess roots

Mary, left, took over the Aug. 15 holiday from the goddess Diana, right

A mid-August holiday was once the festival of the lesbian goddess Diana (Artemis), but it has been adapted into a feast day for the Virgin Mary.

For a new version of this article, click this link to
Mary, Diana and Artemis: Feast of Assumption has lesbian goddess roots

Midsummer feasts have celebrated the divine feminine on Aug. 15 since before the time of Christ. Now devoted to Mary, the holiday known as the Feast of the Assumption (or Dormition) carries the torch of lesbian spiritual power to a new generation on the same date.

Saint Mary, mother of Jesus, is honored by churches on Aug. 15 in a major feast day marking her death and entrance into heaven. Catholic and Orthodox churches call it the Feast of the Assumption or Dormition because they believe that Mary was “assumed” into heaven, body and soul.

The connections between Diana and Mary raise many questions. The concept of virginity has been used to control women, but sometimes it is a code word for lesbian. What shade of meaning is implied by the “virginity” of these two heavenly queens? Did the church patriarchs substitute wild lesbian Artemis with mild straight Mary -- or is Mary more versatile and dynamic than many thought?

The Virgin Mary’s holiday was adapted -- some would say appropriated -- from an ancient Roman festival for Diana, the virgin goddess of the moon and the hunt. Diana, or Artemis in Greek, is sometimes called a lesbian goddess because of her love for woman and her vow never to marry a man. The ancient Roman Festival of Torches (Nemoralia) was held from Aug. 13-15 as Diana’s chief festival.

According to mythology, Diana preferred the company of women and surrounded herself with female companions. They took an oath of virginity and lived as a group in the woods, where they hunted and danced together. Homoerotic art and speculations often focus on Diana’s relationship with the princess Callisto. The god Jupiter (Zeus) lusted after Callisto, so he disguised himself as Diana and seduced Callisto in a woman-to-woman embrace. The lesbian love scene is painted by artists such as Francois Boucher in “Jupiter and Callisto” (below).

“Jupiter (disguised as Diana) and Callisto” by Francois Boucher (Wikimedia Commons)
There are many more stories about Diana and the women, nymphs and goddesses whom she loved. The goddess Britomaris was another favorite of Diana. When the lustful king Minos pursued Britomaris, she escaped by leaping into the sea. Diana rescued her and, some say, fell in love with her. Diana also showed love for various princesses.  She gave the princess Cyrene a pair of magical dogs and granted the princess Daphne the gift of shooting straight. The princess Atalanta almost died of exposure as a baby girl after her father abandoned her because he wanted a son. Diana saved her and, with the help of a she-bear, Atalanta grew up to become one of Diana’s beloved companions. And this is just the beginning.

Diana’s main holiday was the Festival of Torches or Nemoralia. Hundreds of women and girls carried torches and candles in a night-time procession through the woods. They wore wreaths of flowers -- and even put flowers on the hunting dogs who walked with them. The group hiked a few miles from Rome to a sacred site, the circle-shaped Lake Nemi. The dark waters reflected the moon and the torchlight of the pilgrims. There they left offerings of apples, garlic, statues and prayers handwritten on ribbons. Click here for a vivid description of the festival. Ovid, a Roman poet who lived before Christ, described the magic of the festival:

Often does a woman whose prayers Diana answered,
With a wreath of flowers crowning her head,
Walk from Rome carrying a burning torch...

Click here for a beautiful painting of “Diana Asleep in the Woods” by surrealist Giorgio de Chirico. Diana sleeps beside an offering of fruit, her bow and arrow, and her large black-and-white spotted dog.

Artemis of Ephesus
Aspects of Diana and Artemis were taken over by the church more than 1,300 years ago. The Festival of Torches became the Feast of the Assumption. The Temple of Artemis at Ephesus in Turkey was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world, with an awe-inspiring statue of the “many-breasted” Artemis. The temple was destroyed and replaced by the Church of Mary. The Virgin Mary even assumed some titles once given to Artemis, including Queen of Heaven.

Books such as Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary by cultural historian Marina Warner show how the figure of Mary was shaped by goddess legends and other historical circumstances, resulting in an inferior status for women. In the novel “Mary and the Goddess of Ephesus: The Continued Life of the Mother of Jesus,” former seminarian Melanie Bacon explores the little-known tradition that after Jesus died, his mother spent most of her adult life in a community dedicated to worshiping Artemis.

Feminists praise Diana/Artemis as an archetype of female power, a triple goddess who represents all phases of womanhood. She is the maiden, wild and free, with no need for a man. She is the “many-breasted” mother who nurtures all life. She is the crone, the mature hunter who provides swift death with her arrows in harmony with the cycles of nature.

LGBTQ people and allies may be inspired by the queer origins of this midsummer holiday. May the Queen of Heaven, by whatever name, continue to bless those who remember her.
Related links:
Are there any lesbian goddesseses?

Black Madonna becomes lesbian defender: Erzuli Dantor and Our Lady of Czestochowa (Jesus in Love)

Queer Lady of Guadalupe: Artists re-imagine an icon (Jesus in Love)

Related books:
Mother of God Similar to Fire” with icons by William Hart McNichols and reflections by Mirabai Starr presents a wide of variety of liberating icons of Mary, including a black Madonna. McNichols is a New Mexico artist and Catholic priest who has been rebuked by church leaders for making icons of LGBTQ-affirming martyrs and saints not approved by the church.

Goddess and God in the World: Conversations in Embodied Theology” by Carol P. Christ and Judith Plaskow. Two pioneering leaders in the study of women and religion discuss the nature of God / Goddess.

Alone of All Her Sex: The Myth and the Cult of the Virgin Mary” by cultural historian Marina Warner shows how the figure of Mary was shaped by goddess legends and other historical circumstances, resulting in an inferior status for women.

Holiness and the Feminine Spirit: The Art of Janet McKenzie,” edited by Susan Perry, includes many black Madonnas in an art book to nourish devotion to Mary with reflections by diverse women.

Image credits:

“Diana of Versailles,” Roman artwork, Imperial Era (1st-2nd centuries CE). Found in Italy. (Wikimedia Commons)

“Assumption of Mary” by Guido Remi, 1642 (Wikimedia Commons)

“Artemis of Ephesus,” 1st century CE Roman copy of the “many breasted” Artemis stattue of the Temple of Ephesus (Wikimedia Commons)
Icons of the Assumption of Mary and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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

Friday, August 12, 2016

Radclyffe Hall: Queer Christian themes mark banned book "Well of Loneliness"

A queer Christ figure is the main character in the world’s best known lesbian novel, “The Well of Loneliness” by Radclyffe Hall. She was born on  this date (Aug. 12) in 1880.

The book was banned for obscenity in England in 1928, not just because it portrayed lesbian love, but also for using religious arguments to support “inverts” -- a 1920s term for LGBTQ people. Hall, a devoutly Catholic British lesbian, was herself pictured being nailed to the cross in a satirical cartoon from the era.

Radclyffe Hall
Hall (1880-1943) is widely recognized as a pioneering lesbian (or perhaps transgender) author. But her Christian side is often downplayed because of the conflict between Christianity and homosexuality -- what was then called “congenital sexual inversion.” Hall lived with those contradictions and tried to reconcile them in her books. Today the Jesus in Love Blog focuses on the role of Christianity in Hall’s life and work.

The Well of Loneliness” ends with a desperate prayer that has been echoed by countless LGBTQ people and still rings true now. The prayer is uttered by the novel’s protagonist, Stephen Gordon. She was born on Christmas Eve and named after the first Christian martyr. As a girl she had a dream “that in some queer way she was Jesus.” Like Hall, Stephen grows up to become a masculine woman who wears men’s clothes, has romantic relationships with women, and identifies as an “invert.”

At the climax of the novel Stephen has a vision of being thronged by millions of inverts from throughout time: living, dead and unborn. They beg her to speak with God for them, and then they possess her. She speaks for queer people from the past, present and future as she gives passionate voice to their collective prayer:

“God,” she gasped, “We believe; we have told You we believe…We have not denied You, then rise up and defend us. Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!”

Such themes led to obscenity trials for “The Well of Loneliness,” even though the novel is not sexually explicit. It gets no more risqué than saying, “She kissed her full on the lips, as a lover.” In Britain it was condemned and all copies were ordered destroyed. It was only published in America after a court battle.

British judge Chartres Biron was especially outraged that Hall defended LGBTQI people by affirming that they are part of God’s creation. In his decision Biron wrote::

“I confess that the way in which the Deity is introduced into this book seems to me singularly inappropriate and disgusting. There is a plea for existence at the end. That of course means a plea for existence in which the invert is to be recognized and tolerated, and not treated with condemnation, as they are at present, by all decent people. This being the tenor of the book, I have no hesitation whatever in saying that it is an obscene libel, that it would tend to corrupt those into whose hands it should fall, and that the publication of this book is an offence against public decency, and obscene libel, and I shall order it to be destroyed.”

Both sides of the controversy were satirized in “The Sink of Solitude,” a series of cartoons including “Saint Stephen” by Beresford Egan. One drawing shows Hall nailed to a cross wearing her trademark sombrero. A near-nude Sappho leaps in front of the martyred author and Cupid perches on the crossbeam. The crucifixion is witnessed by the evangelical Home Secretary William Joynson-Hicks, who helped enforce the censorship order.

Hall was upset to see herself portrayed in a way that she considered blasphemous. The drawing strengthened her resolve to write a modern version of Christ’s life as her next novel. Titled “The Master of the House,” it concerns Christophe, a compassionate carpenter born in Provence, France to a carpenter called Jouse and his wife Marie. He ends up being crucified during the First World War.

Writing the book was so spiritually intense that Hall developed stigmata on the palms of her hands during the two-year creative process. She believed it was her best book, but it got bad reviews and sales slumped. In America the book was seized not by police, but by creditors because her publisher went bankrupt.

Almost all references to “The Master of the House” describe it as a deeply religious book without further explanation. Actually it is an adaptation of Christ’s story for modern times. One of the only detailed summaries comes from the Delphi Classics edition of “The Complete Works of Radclyffe Hall.” It states:

“This 1932 novel concerns Christophe Benedict, a carpenter who lives in Provence. Almost saint-like, he is deeply spiritual, compassionate and experiences visions of a previous life as the Carpenter of Nazareth. He is attracted to girls, but refrains from having a relationship, held back by some unknown power -- his closest friend is his male cousin Jan, (but this is not a novel about homosexuality). When the 1914-1918 war begins, he enlists and is posted to Palestine. A close encounter with the enemy leads to a dramatic turn of events.”

Hall’s religious devotion dates back to 1912, when she was in her early 30s. She converted to the Roman Catholic Church under the influence of her first long-term lover, Mabel “Ladye” Batten. Her baptismal name was Antonia and she chose Anthony as her patron saint. Together they worshiped at London’s fashionable Church of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, known as the Brompton Oratory.

Hall and Batten made a pilgrimage to Rome, where a financial donation led Pope Pius X to bless them in a semi-private audience at the Vatican in 1913. “They went to confession and mass in St. Peter’s and bought triptychs, gilt angels and an alabaster Madonna,” biographer Diane Souhami reports in “The Trials of Radclyffe Hall.”

Batten, who died in 1916, was a Catholic convert too, as was Hall’s next lover, Una Troubridge (1887-1963). All three of them were part of a trend. A surprising number of upper-class English lesbians and intellectuals converted to Catholicism in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in a trend related to the Oxford Movement. Conversion was a way of rebelling against English society while maintaining connection with tradition. Hall was also interested in Spiritualism.

An independently wealthy heiress, Hall gave generously to the church. In the 1930s she and Troubridge made their home in Rye, a village in East Sussex where many writers lived. The Catholic Church of Saint Anthony of Padua was constructing a new building when they moved to Rye, and biographer Souhami reports that Hall “poured money into this church” to bring it to completion and furnish it.

“She paid for its roof, pews, paintings of the Stations of the Cross and a rood screen of Christ the King. A tribute to Ladye was engraved on a brass plaque set into the floor:
Of your charity
Pray for the soul of Mabel Veronica Batten
In memory of whom this rood was given.
She paid off all the outstanding debts of the church… Masses, benedictions, processions and venerations stemmed from her beneficence.

One source says that she and Troubridge left their money to the church after their deaths. Hall died of colon cancer at age 63 on October 7, 1943. She is buried with Ladye in London’s Highgate Cemetery.

At the time of her death, “The Well of Loneliness” had been translated into 14 languages and was selling more than 100,000 copies per year. It has never gone out of print. For decades it was the only lesbian book generally available, and therefore it made an enormous impact on generations of queer people. It remains on many lists of the top LGBT books.

Hall is the subject of several book-length biographies, including not only “The Trials of Radclyffe Hall” by Diana Souhami, but also “Our Three Selves: The Life of Radclyffe Hall” by Michael Baker, “Radclyffe Hall: A Woman Called John” by Sally Cline, and “Radclyffe Hall: A Life in the Writing” by Richard Dellamora.

“The Well of Loneliness” has sparked controversy not only from conservatives, but also among the LGBTQ community. The novel is often criticized for expressing shame and self-hatred, defining all lesbians as masculine, and presenting a stereotyped butch-femme lifestyle. Hall has long been classified as a lesbian, but now there is debate over whether she was a transgender man. Secular LGBT readers tend to dismiss the religious aspects as embarrassing and irrelevant relics of a bygone era.

One scholar who affirms the role of religion in Hall’s work is Ed Madden, English professor at the University of South Carolina. His article “The Well of Loneliness, or the Gospel According to Radclyffe Hall” is included in the 2003 book "Reclaiming the Sacred: The Bible in Gay and Lesbian Culture,” edited by Raymond-Jean Frontain. It was originally published in the Journal of Homosexuality, where the abstract summarizes it this way::

“Radclyffe Hall's 1928 novel, 'The Well of Loneliness,' is repeatedly described as a "bible" of lesbian literature. The novel itself repeatedly alludes to biblical stories, especially the story of Christ. Yet there has been little sustained analysis of the biblical language of the novel. Most feminist and lesbian critics have dismissed the biblical allusions and language as unfortunate and politically regressive; religious critics have ignored the novel. This essay reexamines the biblical nature of the novel, especially its portrayal of the lesbian Stephen Gordon as a Christ figure. The study further claims a creative and interventionary power in Hall's use of biblical narratives and tropes, a power traceable in public reception to the novel and in courtroom reactions to the use of spiritual language in a text about lesbianism. By writing the life of a lesbian as a kind of gospel of inversion, Hall turns a language of condemnation into a language of validation, making her use of biblical language a kind of Foucauldian "reverse discourse." The novel's power lies in its portrayal of a lesbian messiah, and in its joining of sexological and religious discourses.”

Another scholar who writes in depth about the queer Christian aspect of Hall’s work is Isabella Cooper. She was a Ph.D. candidate in the English department at the University of Maryland in College Park when she wrote “The Passion of Stephen Gordon: The Messianic Lesbian Artist in Radclyffe Hall’s 'The Well of Loneliness.'” The article appeared in the Transverse Journal in 2011. In the article she states:

“The Well’s readers have frequently noticed the deliberate parallels Hall draws between Stephen and Christ; they have also noticed Hall’s identification with both. Some readers have mocked the novel for precisely this reason. Hall’s strategy of creating an alter-ego/ protagonist and identifying her with Christ reflects her understanding of her role as a Christian lesbian artist. She attempts in this novel to perform a powerful work of redemption for those whose desires society and the Church label sinful. In order to combat the stigma of sinfulness, Hall fashions (and speaks through) a protagonist whose Christ-like suffering and self-sacrifice challenge her readers, and whose ability (by the novel’s end) to reconcile her commitments to her faith, her art, and her sexual identity enable her to take on a messianic role.”

Hall would probably be the first to insist that she was no saint, but she is included in the LGBT Saints series here at the Jesus in Love Blog because was a pioneer in the effort to reconcile Christianity and homosexuality. Thank you, Radclyffe, for voicing a prayer from queer people of all times: “Acknowledge us, oh God, before the whole world. Give us also the right to our existence!”

Related links:
Radclyffe Hall, E. Lynn Harris, and Franz Kafka: Christianity, Queerness, and the Politics of Normalcy” by Margaret Soenser Breen (International Journal of Sexuality and Gender Studies)

Joan of Arc and Radclyffe Hall: Inspiration and Influence” by Steven Macnamara

Full text of "The Well of Loneliness" free online (

Top image credit:
Lesbian author Radclyffe Hall is a crucified Christ figure in a 1928 cartoon by Beresford Egan

This post is part of the LGBTQ Saints series by Kittredge Cherry. Traditional and alternative saints, people in the Bible, LGBTQ martyrs, authors, theologians, religious leaders, artists, deities and other figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender and queer (LGBTQ) people and our allies are covered.

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