LGBTQ History: Sergius and Bacchus
Sergius and Bacchus were fourth-century Roman Christian soldiers that became revered as martyrs and military saints by the Catholic, Eastern Orthodox and Oriental Orthodox Churches.
Their feast day is 7 October.
According to the story told, Sergius and Bacchus were officers in Galerius’ army, and were held high in his favour until they were exposed as secret Christians. They were then severely punished, with Bacchus dying during torture, and Sergius eventually beheaded.
The close friendship between Sergius and Bacchus is emphasised in their story – they are one of the most prominent examples of paired saints.
Historians have joined the dots and concluded that Sergius and Bacchus were a lot closer than just friends.
How accurate is the story of Sergius and Bacchus?
While the tragic story of the two men is compelling, it’s unlikely to be fairly reliable.
It’s believed that the current version of the story was documented in the mid-5th century, while the events surrounding Sergius and Bacchus are set during the reign of Roman emperor Galerius (305-311).
Deification of Sergius and Bacchus as religious martyrs doesn’t appear to have emerged until around the year 425 – about a century after their death.
Some scholars believe that the story of Sergius and Bacchus is based on an earlier story that focused on Juventinus and Maximinus – two saints who were martyred under the rule of Emperor Julian the Apostate in 363.
Why did Sergius and Bacchus become such popular saints?
It appears that a cult based on the worship of Sergius and Bacchus emerged in the fifth century.
This was a period when cults surrounding martyrs were particularly popular.
As military martyrs, Sergius and Bacchus held particular appeal. A shrine was built and was patronised by important political figures of the time.
In the Byzantine Empire, Sergius and Bacchus were venerated as protectors of the army. A large monastery church, the Little Hagia Sophia, was dedicated to them in Constantinople by Justinian I, probably in 527.
According to legend, during the reign of Justin I, his nephew Justinian had been accused of plotting against the throne and was sentenced to death, which was reversed after Saints Sergius and Bacchus appeared before Justin and vouched for Justinian’s innocence. He was freed and restored to his title of Caesar, and in gratitude vowed that he would dedicate a church to the saints once he became emperor. The construction of this Church of Saints Sergius and Bacchus, between 527 and 536 AD was one of the first acts of the reign of Justinian I.
How gay were Sergius and Bacchus?
Given that the facts of their story seem fairly loose, it’s difficult to read too much into any potential relationship between the two men.
What we have to go on is people writing about Sergius and Bacchus centuries after the two men supposedly lived and died – that generally tells us more about the people writing the story than the men being written about.
Needless to say, Sergius and Bacchus are particularly popular with gay christians – two soldiers who fought together and died for their faith and their love. Sexy.