Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Same-Sex Marriage in 16th Century Rome

I have been reading a fascinating book entitled, Homosexuality and Civilization, by Professor Louis Compton. I have previously considered blogging about passages of the book; but I read something yesterday that I decided I had to blog about. In concerns an event that occurred in 1578 in Rome.

During the papacy of Pope Gregory XIII (who reformed the calendar and also hounded and burned "sodomites" with a vengeance), the Venetian ambassador to the papal court wrote in a dispatch in 1578:
"Eleven Portuguese and Spaniards have been captured. They had assembled in a church near Saint John Lateran where they had performed some ceremonies ... which sullied the sacred name of matrimony, marrying each other and being joined together as husband and wife. Twenty-seven or more, it is said, were discovered altogether on other occasions, but at this time they were not able to capture more than this eleven, who were given the fire as they deserved."
Another account was written by French writer Michel de Montaigne upon visiting Rome two-three years later. His Travel Journal confirms, as Compton writes, "that the ceremonies were conducted in full seriousness and were an attempt, however foolhardy, to give dignity to relationships the men took seriously. Montaigne wrote:
" ... [At the Church of] San Gionanni Porta Latina [pictured above], in which church a few years before certain Portugese had entered into a strange brotherhood. They married one another, male to male, at Mass, with the same ceremonies with which we perform our marriage services, the same marriage gospel service, and then went to bed and lived together. The Roman wits said that because in the other conjunction, of male with female, this circumstance alone makes it legitimate, it had seemed to these sharp folk that this other action would become equally legitimate if they authorized it with ceremonies and mysteries of the Church. Eight or nine Portuguese of this fine sect were burned."
The story behind this event would make a fascinating read. Obviously at least one priest was involved to say mass and perform the marriages. These men almost certainly knew that they would - if discovered - be burned. Why did they do it? Did someone betray them?  Herein lies a tale worthy of being written about.

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