Visions of Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman

Visions of Queer Martyrdom from John Henry Newman to Derek Jarman

Dominic Janes

Print publication date: 2016

ISBN: 9780226250618

Publisher: University of Chicago Press


The book explores the British cultural tradition of queer martyrdom that originated in the Roman and Anglican Catholic Revivals of the nineteenth century. As a devotional practice this centred on the envisioning of Christ as an unmarried, suffering, beautiful, queer martyr. Those who wished to purge their own sinful desires and live eternally with Him could seek idealised visions of His eroticisable body in the Mass as the reward for a life of arduous devotion. Men with such tastes might band together in communities of the like-minded. Others, who appreciated the homoerotic potential of such worship but who could not cope with the limits on lives in the Christian closet and who yearned for a wider public witness of sexual preferences rather than of self-denial, moved increasingly to alternative forms of self-expression, many of them rooted in socialism. Such people could then use queer aspects of ecclesiastical style as elements of camp or pastiche. Others remained within the space of the Churches and established a discrete niche within society sustained by their own visions of queer pain and delight. This last phenomenon helps to explain the role of the post-war Anglican Church in being instrumental in helping to bring about the partial decriminalisation of homosexual relations in England in 1967. Many in the gay liberation movement subsequently rejected the heritage of religion and yet, with tragic irony, the experience of AIDS gave a renewed prominence to older, queer traditions that were rooted in the aestheticized endurance of suffering.