This past Monday, California became an even better place than it already was, because gays and lesbians started getting married legally. So, in honor of that fact, this week we’re talking about Saints Sergius and Bacchus, officially the patron saints of Christian nomads, and unofficially the patron saints of gay marriage and military gays.
I, for one, am super-excited this week because my usually shoddy research methods are a bit better than usual. That’s right: I found a really old translation of the Greek “Passion of Sergius and Bacchus.” It’s public domain, bitches! Yeah!
Sergius and Bacchus were high-ranking Roman soldiers, probably upperclass, during the reign of Maximian and Diocletian (there were two emperors for this period until Constantine took over, so some sources talk about Diolcletian, some about Maximian. Don’t get confused, it’s all cool). They were buddies with Maximian, and also secretly Christian, knowing the official policy about being Christian at that time. (Hint: there are a shitload of martyrs from around 300 CE.)
These two were really close, which is of course why people speculate about whether or not they were lovers. They were apparently fond of saying, “Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!” which is maybe a little gay. In any case, someone else, possibly jealous of their status, found out about their secret. The Christianity, not the possible homosexuality.
This leads to one of my favorite quotes in the Passion. Apparently the guy who reported them to Maximian said, “…they worship Christ, whom those called Jews executed, crucifying him as a criminal…” Way to anachronize, later Roman Catholic Church!
The standard test for Christianness at this point was, “Will they sacrifice?” so it was diligently applied to Sergius and Bacchus. They were asked to accompany Maximian to a temple, and when they avoided going inside, they were dragged in by other soldiers and told to offer something to Jupiter or pay the price. Guess which one they chose.
First, they were bound with heavy chains, dressed in women’s clothing, and made to parade through town. It didn’t work. The next day they reported to another officer, who ordered that Bacchus be severely beaten with chains and whips, while Sergius be chained in solitary confinement for the day. Bacchus died from his wounds–the Passion offers the delightful detail that his stomach and liver were ruptured.
That night, he appeared in angelic form to Sergius, still in solitary, saying don’t give up, bro! The next morning, the prison guards gave Sergius some new shoes, with nails pointing upwards through the soles. Then he got to run eighteen miles in them, and I wondered if that was in any way related to the original Little Mermaid story.
At that point the Romans got bored, and decided to just execute him already. He was beheaded and his body thrown to the wild animals, though a flock of birds kept watch until nightfall, when a conveniently close colony of desert monks could come bury the body. This was in Rasafa, Syria, and in the late 400’s–long after the entire empire was officially Christian–a church to Sergius and Bacchus was built on the site of Sergius’ grave.
Though as always my opinions should be taken with a grain of salt, I don’t think it’s all that likely that they were actually lovers. Early Christians, broadly speaking, were really into brotherhood and the family of Christ being your new family and all that. Plus, they were also in the Roman army, which was another extremely fraternal organization, and one that frowned pretty strongly on its soldiers committing homosexual acts. And, to top it all off, most societies had different ideas about what was appropriate in friendship than ours do now.
I would love to do a bit more wild speculating, but that’s all I’ve got. I found this tantalizing nugget saying that maybe they actually lived under Julian, since he was more into humiliation, but you have to subscribe to get the rest of the article, and we all know my position on doing real research.
But, in conclusion, it is still way cool that gays and lesbians can get married in CA now. If you’re in the state, vote against the constitutional amendment in November, give money to equal marriage organizations if you feel like it, and plan your big gay wedding on Oct. 7.