Title: Sex, Saints and Sectarianism Credit: Craig Young Comment Tuesday 16th May 2006 - 12:00pm1147737600 Article: 1240 Rights
In the context ofIslamic/gay understanding, the incident of Saint Pelagius of Cordoba is cause for some interest, even if it did happen back in the tenth century CE. Pelagius (c910-925) was a fifteen year old Christian captive at the court of the Muslim Caliph Abd-ar-Rahman III (r912-961), and had been held hostage for three years, although treated well. At some point, the Caliph noticed the strapping young man, and invited him for an audience. There are two versions of what happened next. In one version, Abd-ar-Rahman offers Pelagius considerable riches and a life of luxury if he converts to Islam. Pelagius refuses, is tortured to death, and henceforth celebrated as a martyr. However, there's also a spicier version. According to contemporary chronicler Hrosvitha, Pelagius was actually desired by the 'sodomitic moor' Caliph, who had him brought before him to assess his reknowned beauty. At this point, Pelagius stripped off, and made sure the Caliph got an eyeful, before he refused to consummate any relationship with the frustrated Abd-ar-Rahman. Annoyed, the Caliph had him catapulted over the palace walls, without the gory torture bits involved in the other version. What do we make of this? Contemporary feminist and gay medievalists and religious historians question Pelagius' innocence in all this. Was Pelagius therefore a young religious fanatic, who led the Caliph on through a shameless display of exhibitionism and then refused to consummate the relationship, knowing that he would have the "glory" of dying for his faith, and striking a blow against Muslim assertion on the Iberian peninsula? Mark Jordan thought so when he re-evaluated Hrosvitha's story, and noted the intertwined use of homophobia and Islamophobia in the text. Jessica Cooper provides a useful historical context for tenth-century Cordoba, which suggests that was the case. For contemporary viewers, it holds different lessons. Like similar gory hagiographic stories of dismembered female 'viring' Christian saints, we can witness here how antisex conservative Christianity 'morality' was, and is. Moreover, Pelagius doesn't look particularly 'virginal' to us. Exactly how did he know that stripping off would turn poor Abd-ar-Rahman on, and isn't this counter to the Christian 'virtue' of modesty? This story should teach us one thing- look carefully at the context before you judge something on face value. Like assumed 'Christian' or Western moral superiority over Islamic societies, past or present? Recommended: Jessica Cooper: The Martyrs of Corboda: Community and Family Conflict in an Age of Mass Conversion: Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press: 1995. Mark Jordan: The Invention of Sodomy in Medieval Christian Theology: Chicago: University of Chicago Press: 1997. Sarah Salih: Versions of Virginity in Late Medieval Europe: Cambridge: DS Brewer: 2002. Craig Young - 16th May 2006    
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