The Gay Abbot Alcuin

Posted by Censor Librorum on Nov 16, 2008 | Categories: Arts & Letters, History, Lesbians & Gays

 Gay clerics and those rumored to be–nuns, priests, bishops, cardinals, monks, abbots, even popes–have been with us always.   Some were celibate.   Others were not.   Most were discreet.   Others celebrated their love and loves.   One of them was Alcuin of York.

 Alcuin, also known as Alcuinus (Latin) and Ealhwine (Saxon) was born in York, in Northumbria, England in 735 A.D. alcuin3.jpg

At the invitation of Charlemagne, Alcuin headed the king’s school  for his children  at Aachen from 782 to 796. He was a leading figure at court during that time.    He wrote many theological and dogmatic treatises, as well as a few grammatical works and a number of poems.

Alcuin was made abbot of Saint Martin’s at Tours in 796, where he remained until his death on May 19, 804. He is considered among the most important architects of the Carolingian Renaissance.

John Boswell, in Christianity, Social Tolerance and Homosexuality (1980) writes:

“A distinctly erotic element…is notable in the circle of friends presided over by Alcuin at the court of Charlemagne. This group included some of the most brilliant scholars of the day (Theodule of Orleans, Anglibert, Einhard, et al,), but the most erotic element subsisted principally between Alcuin and his pupils. Intimates of this circle of masculine friendship were known to each other by pet names, most of them derived from classical allusions, many from Vergil’s Ecologues..The prominence of love in Alcuin’s writings, all of which are addressed to other males, is striking…”

One of the most famous poems is addressed to a student whom Alcuin called “Daphnis” and laments the departure of another student, “Dodo,” who is referred to in the poem as their “cuckoo“. alcuin.jpg

Boswell explains that “One expects hyperbole in poetry, but even in Alcuin’s prose correspondence there is an element which can scarcely be called anything but passionate. He wrote to a friend (a bishop…)

‘I think of your love and friendship with such sweet memories, reverend bishop, that I long for that lovely time when I may be able to clutch the neck of your sweetness with the fingers of my desires. Alas, if only it were granted to me, as it was to Habakkuk (Daniel 14:32-38), to be transported to you, how I would sink into your embraces, much would I cover, with tightly pressed lips, not only your eyes, ears and mouth, but also every finger and toe, not once but many a time.”

“Love has penetrated my heart with its flame,” wrote Alcuin to Arno, Bishop of Salzburg (c. 750-821). “Neither sea  nor land, hills nor forest, nor even the Alps can stand in its way or hinder it from always licking at your inmost parts, good father, or from bathing your heart, my beloved, with tears…Let us seek the delights and ever-enduring realms of heaven with our  whole heart, mind, and hand. The blessed hall of heaven  never  separates friends; a heart warmed by love always has what it loves. Therefore, father, abduct me with your prayers, I beg you (precibus rape me). Then our love will never be estranged.”

Surely, Alcuin was one of the first Catholic religious figures to  blend gay  sexuality and spirituality in  his writing, relationships and life.

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