For a long time, the subject of homosexuality in the Middle Ages was avoided at all costs or some scholars even appearing to suggest that it didn’t exist. It clearly did and one only has to read the fulminating tracts from people like Peter Damian who, a thousand years ago, had a long and very specific rant against gays in the clergy and society generally.
“Who will make a mistress of a cleric or a woman of a man.” This was one example of his less than PC view of same sex relations. His Book of Gomorrah makes it very clear that in the early medieval period, gay sex was a big ‘problem’ for the church among its members. “For God’s sake, why do you damnable sodomites pursue the heights of ecclesiastical dignity with such fiery ambition?”
Let’s be clear in light of recent events in the Catholic church that we are not discussing child abuse here but men having sex with men. However, in the medieval church the terms ‘sodomy’ and ‘pederasty’ were used to cover any number of sex acts that contravened scripture. Since the conversion of the Roman Empire to Christianity, the classical love of the physical form and a relative openness about sexuality had given way to a disgust at the human form and its functions, now seen as a earthly ball and chain around the spirit which was striving to break free and join the Godhead. Sex was therefore a pernicious distraction from the spiritual and the only reason for doing it was to make children.
The Middle Ages is full of clerics almost seeming to claw at their own bodies in horror. So any idea that sex was being indulged in for pleasure – and worse, between members of the same sex (where procreation was clearly not intended) – came in for maximum disapproval. Not that there was a clear concept of homosexuality in the Middle Ages but let’s just say – it was going on! Gay people were not invented in the 1960s.
There were poems from the Arabic, Jewish and Christian worlds describing men kissing each other and in medieval towns, it may have been possible to achieve the required level of anonymity to avoid the pressure to get married and to have homosexual relationships. Yishaq ben Mar-Saul was an Islamic poet writing about gay relationships in the eleventh century.
Clearly the church would have opposed this form of sex and with the Templars, we have descriptions of their kissing being not only on the lips but at the base of the spine and bottom. These accusations were intended to evoke revulsion amongst those who heard them.
But there were bishops who wrote about mutual masturbation and fellatio with remarkable candor. Ivo of Chartres is one example. Baudri of Bourgueil wrote about his admiration of pretty young men with not much left to the imagination. And these clerics even seemed to have swapped notes among each other. This rather knocks on the head the daft idea that there were long periods of history where homosexuality ‘died out’. Not being detectable is different from not happening.
From Roman times, being the passive male was frowned on in many parts of Europe though being an actively sexual male – with men or women – was tolerable. The active/passive distinction seems to have been more important than the gay/straight distinction of our time. In knightly circles in the Middle Ages – and our Templars were knights as well as monks – gay sex is certainly alluded to and in the person of Richard the Lionheart, the chroniclers were in no doubt that he preferred sex with men to women. Richard was of course a contemporary of the Templars and a great supporter.
So were the Templars gay? Well, in the oppressed climate of the time, men who liked having sex with men would have sought an underground scene of some description where like minded chaps could meet and so on…. Was there a particular reason why gays might have gravitated towards the Templars? Only if one accepts that the Order was more inclined to sodomy than other monastic orders – and for that, you have to take what was alleged in the trial of Templar leaders in 1308 at face value.
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- Templars’ Lost Treasure – on National Geographic (thetemplarknight.com)