Once in a while two events on opposite sides of the world connect. We see that happening at the moment in two, apparently unrelated events – the vote of same-sex marriage in Australia, and the declaration of independence by Catalonia. Boiling it down to the basic issues of same-sex marriage and separatism in Spain we can combine them into one with a same-sex wedding in the medieval kingdom of Galicia.
We’ll begin with a
wedding. A couple of years ago I wrote about the relationship between SirWilliam Neville and Sir John Clanvowe and how they were shown as a married
couple. They probably went through a church ceremony identical to the marriage
ceremony, but no record of it exists. It is known that the Roman Catholic
Church encouraged men to form unions which may have their origin in the older
practice of adelphopoiesis, a liturgy in the medieval Greek Orthodox Church, in
which two men are united in something very much like a same-sex marriage.
Before I go any further I
think it might be helpful to explain what a wedding actually is. I’m not
talking about marriage, that’s a different concept with a different origin. It
is the ceremony, the wedding that I’ll write about here.
The word “wedding” comes
from the same origin as the word “wager”. They both derive from the ancient
word for a pledge. A wedding was a pledge from a husband to take a woman as his
wife. The pledge was sealed with a wedding ring (that’s why it isn’t called a
Despite modern assumptions
that Christians have always had church weddings the truth is very different.
For an understanding of the origin of church weddings we have to thank the gay
Christian historian and Anglican deacon Prof. Diarmuid MacCulloch. In his 2015
television series “Sex and the Church” he explained how church weddings came
Early Christians didn’t
have ceremonies to celebrate marriages. All they did was exchange vows in front
of witnesses. This type of marriage was referred to as “common law”. It was
towards the end of the Dark Ages that men began to think about their
inheritance, whether it was a big manorial estate or a small cottage and a
couple of pigs. When a man died his eldest son inherited his property.
Squabbles between siblings could go on for decades if there was no certain
heir. Male relatives would fight over who was legitimate of illegitimate, based
on their word about whose parents were married. The only way to prove whether
an heir was from a legal marriage was to have that marriage approved by the
highest authority in the world – God. People began asking priests to marry them
in church in the eyes of God.
The Greek Orthodox service
of adelphopoiesis, brother-making, dates from the end of the Dark Ages as well.
The theory that it allowed homosexual couples (as we would call them in today’s
terms) to marry was first proposed by two openly gay historians, John Boswell
(1947-1994) and Alan Bray (1948-2001). Their theories were challenged by the
Greek Orthodox Church, but then they would. The modern Orthodox Church is more
anti-gay than Roman Catholicism. Even other historians challenged the theory, a
leading critic being Robin Darling Young, but then again she would. She’s a
devout Catholic and history professor at the only official Roman Catholic
university in the USA.
Unfortunately, very, very
few records of the first church weddings survive, but one which may be evidence
of a brother-making ceremony can be found in a document discovered in the
monastery of San Salvador de Celanora in Galicia, Spain. It records the union
of two men called Pedro Diaz and Muño Vandilaz taking place on 16th April 1061.
Diaz and Vandilaz were
“wedded” in a chapel in Rairiz de Veija, just a few miles from the current
border with Portugal. They made their vows in writing in front of a priest,
committing themselves to live and work together, and share clothes, food and
bed. They wouldn’t have called themselves homosexuals in the way we use the
term today, because that term didn’t exist in 1061. Nor would they call
themselves a gay couple. They had no words for a gay couple in those days
The discovery of their wedding
ceremony was made by another openly gay history professor, Carlos Callón. His
research also supports the modern view, (deliberately) ignored by anti-church
propagandists, that the Catholic Church did not victimise gay men as harshly as
those propagandists claim. Homosexuality was never declared a sin in the
Church, not until modern separatist evangelical churches did so. On the other
hand civil authorities, elected officials, politicians and non-clergy have all
put the death penalty on homosexual acts.
Carlos Callón’s research
on medieval sexuality, “Friends and Sodomites”, won a prestigious prize for
social sciences in 2011. The prize board praised his work and, in particular,
his analysis of the origin of homophobia in the 11th and 12th centuries.
And that leaves one
question? What has all that got to do with Catalonian independence? As well as
being a historian Carlos Callón is also an activist in the Bloque Nacionalista
Galega, the nationalist coalition of Galician political groups who, like
Catalonia, would prefer independence from Spain. Carlos is an expert on Galicia
history and language and was an elected local councillor for several years for
the Bloque. Galicia is an area of unique culture and heritage that has more in
common with Portugal than it does with Spain, while being different to both.
Only time will tell if the
Catalonia situation stabilises and reaches a mutual solution. Maybe, way in the
future, Galicia will move in the same direction and have a calmer path to
independence. No doubt Carlos Callón (if it happens in our lifetime) will be in
the forefront of that cause, just as he is in discovering recorded evidence
that same-sex marriage isn’t new.