Sunday, November 26, 2017

LGBTQ History: Middle Ages Not A Good Time for Gays

Giovanni di Giovanni (1350 - 1365), depicted in the painting above, is one of the youngest victims of the campaign against sodomy waged in 14th-century Florence, Italy. The prosecution came on the heels of the Black Death, the bubonic plague epidemic, which had ravaged the city 2 years earlier. Some of the most influential people of the religious establishment blamed sodomites for having brought the wrath of God down on the heads of the populace. The “remedy” they promoted was to purify the city of evil by means of fire, leading to burnings at the stake and other punishments (red-hot iron) such as that suffered by poor young Giovanni, who was only 15.

Di Giovanni was labeled “a public and notorious passive sodomite” and convicted of being the passive partner of a number of different men. His punishment was to be paraded on the back of an ass, then to be publicly castrated. Finally, he was to have his anus burned with a red-hot iron (or, as the sentence read: “[punished] in that part of the body where he allowed himself to be known in sodomitical practice.”) It is presumed he did not survive the ordeal.

Such was life for gay people during the Middle Ages in Europe; the period of history from 500 AD to 1500 AD. In early Medieval years, homosexuality was given no particular penance; it was often viewed like all the other sins. For example, during the 8th century, Pope Gregory III gave penances of 160 days for lesbian-like acts and usually one year for males who committed homosexual acts. During the Inquisition itself, it is unlikely that people were brought up for homosexual behavior alone; it was usually for publicly challenging the Church's stance against homosexuality. Those who did not back down would be severely punished.

As time went on, punishments for homosexual behavior became harsher. In the 13th century, in areas such as France, homosexual behavior between men resulted in castration on the first offense, dismemberment on the second, and burning on the third. Lesbian behavior was punished with specific dismemberments for the first two offenses and burning on the third as well. By the mid-fourteenth century in many cities of Italy, civil laws against homosexuality were common. If a person was found to have committed sodomy, the city's government was entitled to confiscate the offender's property.

By the end of the Middle Ages, most of the Catholic churchmen and states accepted and lived with the belief that sexual behavior was, according to Natural Law aimed at procreation, considering purely sterile sexual acts, i.e. oral and anal sex, as well as masturbation, sinful. However homosexual acts held a special place as crimes against Natural Law. Most civil law codes had punishments for such "unnatural acts," especially in regions which were heavily influenced by the Church's teachings, such as Spain.

In Spain, 
Isabella and Ferdinand are known for supporting and financing Christopher Columbus' 1492 voyage that led to the opening of the New World. 

However, in 1497, Ferdinand and Isabella made life for homosexuals even worse than it already was. They strengthen the sodomy laws previously applied only in the cities. An increase was also made in the severity of the crime--equating being gay to treason or heresy. The amount of evidence required for conviction was also lowered, and torture was permitted to extract confessions. The property of the defendant is also confiscated.

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