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Surfers' Paradise March 09

Dixe WillsI don't know about you, but whenever anyone takes me by the hand in the bus and whispers, 'The ninth day of January,' into my sensuous ear (it's won awards, you know) I am instantly transported to a scene of carnage and mayhem in old Armenia. Dear old Polyeuchtus: a well-to-do son of Greeks and high ranking Roman army officer, he gave it all up to become a Christian martyr. And for what? Mere eternal bliss and a place close to the throne. Who wouldn't feel peeved?

According to Symeon Matephrastes (and surely he, of all people, would not lie to us), Polyeuctus was led down this errant path by his so called friend Nearchus who converted him in 259 - though this last detail is up for debate: it could have been upstairs at 259A. Polyeuchtus, duly 'enflamed with zeal', marched to the central square at Melitene and 'tore up the edict of Decius which required everyone to worship idols'. After smashing up a dozen of said idols for good measure he was swiftly arrested and tortured. Deaf to the anguished implorings of his pagan wife he refused to recant, thus making his beheading something of an inevitability. Nearchus fared worse, if anything, being burnt alive, which can't be nice.

'But what has this to do with the interweb?' I hear you cry. Good point. Focus, self, focus, and hit the button that makes that catchiest of addresses <otkenyer.hu/halsall/lgbh-gaysts.html> appear on the projector screen. There it is - The Calendar of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Saints.

There are more than 10,000 saints, the vast majority of whom are little-known. Of those whose lives (and invariably laborious deaths) we do know something, there are quite a few who, according to the website 'were, or seem to have been, gay, lesbian, transgendered or "queer" in some way.' Among the better known names in the calendar are Perpetua and Felicitas ( March 7), Julian of Norwich, (May 8), George (April 23), Cardinal Newman (August 11), and even John the Evangelist (December 27).

The evidence to support these claims is, one has to say, often somewhat sketchy. The basis for Sebastian's inclusion, for instance, is the apparent homo-eroticism of the depictions of his (usually) naked arrow-pierced torso. Polyeuchtus and Nearchus, however, have been celebrated as a same-sex couple from very early on 'and invoked as such in the "adelphopoiia" ceremonies ... indicating a Christian tradition of exclusive and publicly recognised same-sex unions.'

Statistically, of course, in a group of 10,000-odd there are bound to have been some saints who found themselves in regions of the spectrum of sexuality that many Christians today would find antithetical to a life of faith. And I don't know about you, but as someone who, albeit for reasons other than sexuality, habitually feels like a square pane in the arch window of the Church, that makes me feel a little more gay.

Dixe Wills