Saturday 11 November 2017

Weddings - Poles (and Polls) Apart

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 marriage ring).
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 into being.

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 either.
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.

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