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Title: Bells, Smells and Candles: Anglo-Catholicism and Gay Men Credit: Craig Young Comment Friday 23rd June 2006 - 12:00pm1151020800 Article: 1309 Rights
 
For many nineteenth century English gay men, "Anglo-Catholicism" offered an alternative subculture and spirituality that met their needs. Why was this? Until I read Stephen Bates' recent book on Anglicanism and lesbian/gay ordination, I wasn't aware of the significance of this religious subculture to maintaining gay male community networks in the nineteenth century. So, what is "Anglo-Catholicism?" It represents tendencies within Anglicanism that stress its continuity with what they view as the grandeur and ceremony of its medieval past, particularly through the arts, architecture, clerical dress and literature. For rebels of an earlier age, it marked rebellion against the puritanical anti-sensuality of fundamentalist 'low church' Anglicanism. It often involved ornate clerical robes, lavish interior church design and observance of pre-Reformation saints days, but besides the fabulous outfits and baroque design, what attracted gay men to it? During the nineteenth century, Anglo-Catholic Anglican ministers tried to emulate their counterparts through celibate priesthood. That is, hetero-celibate priesthood. Some of them revived single-sex monasticism, and within such a same-sex emotional and sexual hothouse, some gay men came to recognise and consummate their desire for other men. This wasn't always the case- David Hilliard tells us that some Anglo-Catholic men sublimated what seem to be powerful homoerotic desires for one another. There is some confusion over this, as the nineteenth century was the time of powerful (platonic?) same-sex 'romantic friendships' between those of the same sex, until the Oscar Wilde scandal darkened the cultural climate in the 1890s. Why was Anglo-Catholicism so tolerant of gay men? As a religious subculture, it suffered persecution at the hands of bigoted fundamentalist low church Anglicans itself. In some cases, fundamentalist hooligans would disrupt Anglo-Catholic worship services, and in 1874, Parliament passed a Public Worship Regulation Act, which tried to ban Anglo-Catholic styles of worship within Anglicanism, striking at the right to freedom of worship and church/state seperation. Fortunately, this benighted legislation didn't survive for long, but it may have rendered Anglo-Catholicism more inclined to develop radical social concern than fundamentalist, low church Anglicanism. This has continued until the present, and Anglo-Catholics have praiseworthy records when it comes to the anti-apartheid movement of the twentieth century, and urban anti-poverty radicalism within destitute areas of Great Britain, as well as lesbian and gay rights. As gay men past and present have seemingly always found ourselves sympathetic occupational environments in the field of fashion and design, Anglo-Catholicism's love of ritual and ceremony gave its gay priests and parishioners chances to produce neo-baroque church architecture and design ornate clerical robes and manufacture altar embroidery and candles. Moreover, some Anglo-Catholic ministers weren't terribly butch. Moreover, the subculture seemed to attract young gay male shop assistants and clerks, who could lose themselves in a romantic dream world of pageantry, intricate symbolism and fancy dress, away from dour Victorian England cultural and sexual repression. And yes, gay sex scandals happened. Bishop Edward Twells of the Society of Saint Augustine, an Anglo-Catholic monastic missionary order, found that he had to hurriedly flee England in disguise in 1869. In 1864, "Brother Augustine' and "Brother Stanislaus' got into a catfight over their respective involvements with younger men at a Norwich Benedictine Anglo-Catholic revivalist monastery. In 1906, Benjamin Carlyle was inspired to create another such monastic community at Caldey Island, off the coast of South Wales, where same-sex naked bathing occurred during the summer, as well as personal displays of affection. As well as providing a sympathetic occupational environment and social network, some Anglo-Catholic gay men penned gay fiction and poetry. In fact, in fact, John Bloxham of Exeter penned a gay love story entitled "The Priest and the Acolyte" in 1894, wherein a young gay minister and adolescent curate discover their love for one another, but are cruelly thwarted by discovery and threats from a homophobic rector, whereupon both take their own lives through a poisoned chalice at a suicide mass. George Gillett wrote "Uranian" love poetry, edited an Anglo-Catholic missionary journal and penned devotional verse as well. Maurice Child was another flamboyant gay Anglo-Catholic minister who lived in a succession of lavish apartments with his male lover, and threw magnificent dinner parties, wherein guests like lesbian Hollywood actress and camp icon Tallulah Bankhead attended. Archibald Ingram wrote books about sexual ethics which advised acceptance of gay male desire, conducted within a Christian ethical framework- in 1922-4! Due to their own experiences of harrassment and persecution, Anglo-Catholicism developed more sophisticated sensibilities than either Roman Catholics or fundamentalist Anglicans. They accepted biblical criticism, contemporary philosophy and critical scientific endeavour, even if it meant contradicting the Vatican over contraception, which some Anglo-Catholics did during the thirties, when the Church of England accepted the morality of birth control, whereas Rome did not. At present, Anglo-Catholicism still remains a sympathetic home for many lesbians, gay men, and feminists. One might not think so, given that conservative English Anglo-Catholics had made common cause with hardline fundamentalists against the ordination of women within the Church of England, but there were liberal Anglo-Catholics who accepted women's ordination, as well as Anglo-Catholic feminists like novelist Sara Maitland, who argued for Anglo-Catholic feminist spirituality on t he basis that Anglo-Catholicism celebrated sensory experience and expression, and thus converged with feminist concerns about mind/body separation and hatred of sex and female bodies. At a time of considerable repression, Anglo-Catholicism offered a safe if coded environment for English gay men to develop social networks and cultural expression. One wonders what happened in the context of New Zealand Anglicanism at the same time? Recommended: Stephen Bates: A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality: London: IB Tauris: 2003. David Hilliard: "Unenglish and Unmanly: Anglo-Catholicism and Homosexuality" Victorian Studies: 18: Winter 1982: 181-210. Kenneth Hylson-Smith: High Churchmanship in the Church of England: Edinburgh: T  
 
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