Thursday, 3 July 2014

Flower Power : Sinful Stonewall

“The Seven Deadly Gay Sins” is the most popular lgbt history tour I am asked to conduct around Nottingham (people obviously like a bit of sin). Today the elegant surroundings of the annual Hampton Court Flower Show are filled with sin as the theme for the Conceptual Gardens category is the Seven Deadly Sins.

Pride is one of the oldest sins on the list. These days, of course, Pride has come to be closely associated with the lgbt community, as I related several days ago in my article about Brenda Howard. The Pride garden at Hampton Court has been sponsored by Stonewall, the lgbt charity, and it provides an eye-catching illustration into the question of equality. 

The designers of the garden, called “The Stonewall Garden: Breaking Down the Wall of Pride”, are Amanda Miller and Louisa Holecz. At the time of writing there are no photos of the garden available as it is to be revealed this morning. However, you can see an impression of the design here. 

So, what about the Deadly Sin of Pride? Why has its meaning changed over the centuries? 

Pride has always been considered to be the worst of the sins and the one from which the others derive. It appears on the various Deadly Sins lists more often than any other (yes, even more than lust and fornication). In the Book of Proverbs in the Old Testament “a proud look” appears at the head of a list of “things the Lord hateth” that were the origins of the Deadly Sins.

The traditional Seven Deadly Sins originate in the 4th century in the writings of a monk called Evagrius. He listed 8 sins – gluttony, lust, greed, despair, wrath, pride, vainglory and acedie. This last sin has all but been forgotten, but can be best equated with neglect or apathy. The Deadly Sin of sloth on the traditional list is perhaps the nearest to acedie. 

Back to pride. The reason why it is believed to be the original sin is because it was the main trait of the angel who later came to be called Satan or Lucifer. He believed himself to be as great and as powerful as God. This trait can also be labelled as vainglory and hubris, two more sins that have been listed as early Deadly Sins in their own right. Vainglory is unjustifiable boasting, and hubris is arrogance. Vainglory is another example of how a sin came to change in meaning. In Latin “Gloria”, from which “glory” derives, meant “fame, or high renown”. Vainglory is, thus, the claim to false fame. Today, of course, glory has the meanings “praise and honour”, taking the act of claiming fame on yourself to claiming praise for others. 

In 590 Pope Gregory I, the person who decided on our traditional Seven Deadly Sins, merged vainglory, hubris and pride into one sin. All three can be said to display contempt for the views of others. The modern concept of pride turns this inside out. You can have pride in your achievements, pride in others, pride in your community, and pride in belonging. Pride is about recognising your own worth in relation to others. There is no place for contempt in pride any more. That’s what makes it more positive than vainglory or hubris. 

It is this belief in our own worth in society, and in what we can and have achieved in spite of opposition, that made the lgbt community take the word Pride to our heart. Even though no-one will ever claim that the lgbt community is wholly responsible for the shift of Pride away from its sinful origins, we can lay claim (thanks mainly to Brenda Howard) have established a new use of the word that is recognised in the world’s dictionaries. 

Which takes me back to Sinful Stonewall and the garden at the Hampton Court Flower Show. Amanda Miller’s design is based on her own experiences growing up as a lesbian in Australia. It represents the Pride I mentioned above, about how pride and belief in yourself in the face of homophobia can lead to a life of freedom. The title of the garden, “Breaking Down the Walls of Pride”, emphasises the double nature of the word, of how the sin of Pride in some can bring out the positive Pride in others.

And a bit of advance notice for 2015 - I’ll be doing a series of articles based on my tours, the Seven Deadly Gay Sins, featuring stories from lgbt heritage which relate to each one.

1 comment:

  1. I'm pleased to report that "The Stonewall Garden: Breaking Down the Wall of Pride" won a Gold medal at the RHS Hampton Court Palace Flower Show. You can read about it here