Sunday, May 22, 2016

Harvey Milk Day celebrates equality

“Harvey Milk of San Francisco” by Robert Lentz)

Equality for all is celebrated today (May 22) on Harvey Milk Day, the birthday of LGBT rights pioneer Harvey Milk.

As America’s first openly gay man elected to public office in a major city*, Milk was responsible for passing a tough gay-rights law in San Francisco before his assassination on Nov. 27, 1978. He has been called a martyr for LGBT rights -- and for all human rights.

Milk (1930-1978) served only 11 months on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors before he was killed, but in that short time he fought for the rights of the elderly, small business owners, and the many ethnic communities in his district as well as for the growing LGBT community.

Harvey Milk Day March,
by Show Me No Hate
St. Louis, MO
Harvey Milk Day events happen all across America, especially in California, where it became an official state holiday in 2009 and public schools are encouraged to teach suitable commemorative lessons about the LGBT rights activist. Milk is the only openly gay person in the United States to receive such a distinction.

Resources tend to emphasize that Milk was more than an LGBT rights activist, but also a “social and political pioneer” who ”fought for the rights and equality of all” and inspires “disenfranchised communities.”

Harvey Milk Day events often include showing one of the two Oscar-winning movies about his life, the documentary “The Times of Harvey Milk” (1984) or the biographical drama “Milk” (2008), which stars Sean Penn as Milk in an performance that won an Academy Award for best actor. The movie tells how he rose to become one of America’s first openly gay elected leaders, only to be killed by an assassin’s bullet. Directed by Gus Van Sant, the film got eight Academy Award nominations.

The definitive book about his life include “The Mayor of Castro Street” by Randy Shilts.

Milk became the public face of the LGBT rights movement, and his reputation has continued to grow since his assassination.

“If a bullet should enter my brain, let that bullet destroy every closet door in the country,” Milk said. Two bullets did enter his brain, and his vision of queer people living openly is also coming true.

Haunted by the sense that he would be killed for political reasons, Milk recorded tapes to be played in the event of his assassination. His message, recorded nine days before his death, included this powerful statement:

“I ask for the movement to continue, for the movement to grow, because last week I got a phone call from Altoona, Pennsylvania, and my election gave somebody else, one more person, hope. And after all, that's what this is all about. It's not about personal gain, not about ego, not about power — it's about giving those young people out there in the Altoona, Pennsylvanias, hope. You gotta give them hope.”

Shots fired by conservative fellow supervisor Dan White cut Milk’s life short. More than 30 years later, the hope and the movement for LGBT rights are more alive than ever.

Milk has received much recognition for his visionary courage and commitment to equality.  In 2014 the U.S. Postal Service issued a stamp in his honor, with the rainbow colors of the LGBT pride flag appear as a vertical strip in the top left corner. Other LGBT people have appeared on U.S. stamps, but this is the first to feature someone specifically for LGBT activism.


In 2009 he was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom and inducted into the California Hall of Fame. He was included in the Time “100 Heroes and Icons of the 20th Century” for being “a symbol of what gays can accomplish and the dangers they face in doing so.”

The Harvey Milk icon painted by Robert Lentz was hailed as a “national gay treasure” by gay author/activist Toby Johnson. Milk holds a candle and wears an armband with a pink triangle, the Nazi symbol for gay men, expressing solidarity with all who were tortured or killed because of their sexuality. It is one of 40 icons featured in the book “Christ in the Margins” by Robert Lentz and Edwina Gateley. Lentz discusses the icon in a YouTube video.



The Harvey Milk icon is one of 10 icons that sparked a church controversy in 2005. Critics accused Lentz of glorifying sin and creating propaganda for a progressive sociopolitical agenda, and he temporarily gave away the copyright for this and nine other controversial images to his distributor, Trinity Stores. All 10 were displayed there as a collection titled “Images That Challenge.”

The icon has also been criticized for portraying Milk, a secular Jew, in a iconographic style rooted in Christian tradition. “The fact is that more people have been slaughtered in the name of religion than for any other single reason. That, that my friends, that is true perversion!” He is honored in the interfaith LGBTQ Saints series here as a martyr who died in the struggle for LGBT rights.

Harvey Milk is assassinated as Jesus falls in “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button, courtesy of Believe Out Loud

Milk’s assassination is juxtaposed with Jesus falling under the weight of his cross in the image at the top of this post: Station 9 from “Stations of the Cross: The Struggle For LGBT Equality” by Mary Button. Using bold colors and collage, Button puts Jesus' suffering into a queer context by matching scenes from his journey to Golgotha with milestones from the last 100 years of LGBT history. For an overview of all 15 paintings in the series, see my article LGBT Stations of the Cross shows struggle for equality.

The Altar Cross of LGBTQ Martyrs from Metropolitan Community Church of San Francisco features photos of Matthew Shepard, Harvey Milk, Gwen Araujo and others.

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[*Note: When Milk was elected, two gay politicians were already in office: lesbian Massachusetts State Representative Elaine Noble and Minnesota State Senator Allan Spear, who came out after he won re-election.]

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Related links:
Harvey Milk Day Quotes 2015: 11 Inspiring Sayings That Still Ring True Today (International Business Times)

Harvey Milk at the Legacy Project

SF City Hall Unveils Harvey Milk Tribute (advocate.com) (Bronze bust by Daub Firmin Hendrickson sculpture group)


Icons of Harvey Milk and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com




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This post is part of the LGBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts



Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Silencing LGBTQ voices at Methodist conference inspires protest and art


Protests over silencing of LGBTQ voices at the United Methodist Church conference this week inspired a new artwork of a queer Christ.

Dozens of protestors at the UMC General Conference put rainbow duct tape over their mouths in a May 14 protest to symbolize how the church has silenced LGBTQ people and remained silent about them. 

Canadian artist David Hayward, also known as Naked Pastor, created a Christ figure with a halo, a crown of thorns -- and the same kind of rainbow duct tape over his mouth. He calls it “The Silencing of the LGBTQ Community.”

The Methodists are reviewing 100 pieces of legislation on the role of LGBT in the church, including allowing ordination of LGBTQ clergy, same-sex weddings and changing the current position that “homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.” So far almost all the LGBT-related measures were voted down in subcommittee meetings, according to news reports. In addition to the duct-tape demonostration, other LGBTQ protests continued throughout the week.

Update: In the end, the Methodists voted to postpone justice by forming a commission (later) to discuss same-sex marriage and ordination of LGBT clergy.

More than 100 Methodist pastors, deacons, elders and clergy candidates came out publicly as LGBTQI in a widely circulated letter released one day before the conference began.

The letter closes with these words of prayer:

Our prayer, as the church begins its time of discernment, is that you will remember that there are nameless ones around the world, hungry for a word of hope and healing. LGBTQI people and their families exist in every church in every continent of this denomination. They are seeking to remain in faithful relationship with you, even when you refuse, because they know God’s tender mercies and great faithfulness.

Dear church, our prayers are with you, with all of us, in the coming days. May we all be surprised by the Spirit who continues to breathe new life in unexpected ways. May we find the body of Christ stronger at the end of our time together, not weaker or more deeply harmed. May we provide a powerful witness of finding unity even in our differences to a world fractured by fear and mistrust.

The global 10-day conference ran through May 20 in Portland, Oregon.

“Homosexuals Who Practice” by David Hayward

The Methodist church has struggled with LGBTQ rights for decades. Hayward was prophetic in 2014 when he drew the cartoon “Homosexuals Who Practice” to highlighting the Methodist mistreatment of LGBTQ people. The image was used this year on Facebook to help organize LGBTQ protests at the Methodist conference.

It shows two crucified figures: Jesus and a person whose LGBTQ identity is revealed by a rainbow tunic. Red flames of the Methodist logo flare beside the cross where the rainbow figure hangs. A sign over the crucified queer explains,
A homosexual who practiced!
United Methodist Church
Book of Discipline
Paragraph 304.3

In his blog commentary, Hayward quotes the notorious paragraph, which remains in force at the end of the 2016 conference. It states:

“The PRACTICE of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching. The United Methodist Church does not condone the PRACTICE of homosexuality. Therefore self-avowed PRACTICING homosexuals are not to be certified as candidates, ordained as ministers, or appointed to serve in the United Methodist Church.”

Hayward has a master's degree in theology and 30 years of pastoral experience. His books include “The Art of Coming Out: Cartoons for the LGBTQ Community” and his autobiography “Questions are the Answer.” Prints of “The Silencing of the LGBTQ Community” are available from Naked Pastor’s online shop.

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Top image credit: “The Silencing of the LGBTQ Community” by David Hayward
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Related links:

Delegates, supporters stand with LGBTQ people (UMC.org)

Outpouring Of Methodist Clergy Pledge Support To LGBT Colleagues (Huffington Post)

Photos of the Methodist protest with rainbow duct tape (Love Prevails)

Methodists postpone debate of gay issues that could split denomination (Religion News Service)

LGBT protest photos and info (Love Prevails)

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This post is part of the Queer Christ series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series gathers together visions of the queer Christ as presented by artists, writers, theologians and others.
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Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Sunday, May 15, 2016

Pentecost: Holy Spirit brings LGBTQ visions

23. The Holy Spirit Arrives (from The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision) by Douglas Blanchard

Pentecost celebrates the Holy Spirit, an important aspect of God for LGBTQ people and our allies. This year Pentecost is today (May 15). The Spirit brings flaming gender fluidity and inspires change in the church.

On Pentecost the church remembers the descent of the Holy Spirit onto the apostles in tongues of flame. Here the Pentecost is envisioned through queer art and literature,

LGBTQ Christians and our allies recognize the work of the Holy Spirit when churches bless same-sex marriages, ordain openly LGBTQ clergy, teach queer theology, and embrace people of all sexual orientations and gender expressions. The Spirit’s unusual mix of male and female provides added incentive.

In church tradition, the Holy Spirit is often presented as the female (and easily ignored) person of the Trinity. She is sometimes called Sophia, the embodiment of Wisdom. But at other times She is referred to as “He.” Sounds rather queer, doesn’t it?

This post also takes a multi-layered approach to Pentecost, sometimes known as WhitSunday. It has two parts: 1) a reflection on the painting “The Holy Spirit Arrives” by Douglas Blanchard, from his series showing Jesus as a contemporary gay man, and 2) an excerpt from the novel “At the Cross” by Kittredge Cherry.

In the Bible account of Pentecost (Acts 2), the Holy Spirit arrives as tongues of flame that land on Jesus’ disciples. Inspired by the Spirit, they speak in other tongues and a crowd gathers. People from all over the world are amazed to hear the mighty works of God in their own languages. But some scoff, so Peter explains by quoting the prophecy that begins the following reflection.


Pentecost in art
“There appeared to them tongues as of fire, distributed and resting on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit.” -- Acts 2:3-4 (RSV)

A winged woman literally lights up a crowd in “The Holy Spirit Arrives” from “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a series of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard. This is a modern version of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit came like tongues of fire to the disciples of Jesus and inspired them to speak in other languages. Pentecost is a major church holiday celebrated today (May 19, 2013) this year. It is also known as Whitsunday.

In Blanchard’s painting the Holy Spirit floats like an angel above the people at an intersection where darkened city streets meet at odd angles. Carrying flares in both hands, she looks like a flame in her golden gown. The dusky sky and unlit buildings strike a mysterious mood, making miracles possible. Tongues of fire literally flame up from the heads of the people on the streets. Many are arm in arm, forming a circle. Filled with the spirit, they make strange alliances. A soldier, a gangbanger, and a businessman wrap their arms around each other. An older woman and a younger woman embrace. The person in the wheelchair appears to be the same hothead who demanded the death of Christ in 10. Jesus Before the People. Looming behind them is a large building under construction.

The painting gives visual form to a moment of spiritual transcendence. “The Holy Spirit Arrives” is the only painting in Blanchard’s Passion series that does not show Jesus. And yet Jesus IS present within the people. They have been transformed by the Holy Spirit into the body of Christ. Everyone is enflamed -- not just the twelve apostles. Christ has multiple manifestations both inside and outside the church in today’s pluralistic society. The painting also hints that Jesus is present in the form of the Holy Spirit. They both have the same face. This, Blanchard says, is deliberate. By making Jesus and the Holy Spirit look alike, he emphasizes that they are one being. Christ, who is both male and female, can easily change genders.

The story of Pentecost is told in Acts 2 of the Bible. The apostles were sitting together indoors early one morning when they heard wind rushing. Tongues of fire landed on each of them. Inspired by the Spirit, they spoke in other tongues and a crowd gathered. Devout people from all over the world were amazed to hear the mighty works of God in their own languages. But some scoffed, so Peter explained by quoting a prophecy from the Book of Joel: “I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and the young shall see visions, and the old shall dream dreams.” -- Acts 2:17 (Inclusive Language Lectionary) Jesus himself predicted that the Holy Spirit would come after him to empower his disciples to do “even greater things” than he did. He referred to the Holy Spirit with the Greek term paraclete, which means advocate, comforter, or teacher. The word rendered as “Spirit” also denotes wind or breath. The early church taught that the arrival of the Holy Spirit reopened paradise, which had been closed by human sin. Christians believe that the Holy Spirit continues to inspire believers in the present, especially in times of trouble or celebration.

Blanchard takes Pentecost out into the streets and humanizes it by presenting the Holy Spirit as a woman. In church texts the Holy Spirit is sometimes described as the female person of the Trinity. She is known as Sophia, the embodiment of Wisdom. But at other times She is referred to as “He,” a rather queer blurring of gender duality. Blanchard’s bold female Holy Spirit is one of the most unusual features of this painting from an art historical perspective. Artists generally depict the Holy Spirit at Pentecost as a descending dove, not as a woman. Blanchard gives her the wings of a dove. The shape of the building behind the Holy Spirit also looks like a dove, mirroring the shape in the background of “21. Jesus Appears to His Friends.” Paintings of Pentecost are often called “The Descent of the Holy Spirit,” but Blanchard removes the top-down implications by titling it “The Holy Spirit Arrives.”

Earlier in the Passion series the crowd strained to touch Christ or follow his lead, but now they have absorbed his teachings and indeed his spirit. The transformation of the crowd on Pentecost becomes more visible when contrasted with the masses who marched with Jesus on Palm Sunday. Blanchard’s second painting and the second-to-last paintings are paired, just like the first and last. In the past the crowd marched into the city carrying signs, but they didn’t look at each other. Now they have no need for placards or slogans. Turning to each other, they find among themselves the freedom and justice that they had sought to gain. They have been tested in ways that were unimaginable on Palm Sunday and forged into true community. They experience God effortlessly, involuntarily. Despite their otherworldly flames, they are more present in the world than they were before. The Palm Sunday setting was sterile and empty except for the triumphal arch, but this crowd gathers on a realistic city street where people actually live.

The Biblical idea of a fire burning on one’s head is scary as well as implausible, but the flames brought by Blanchard’s Holy Spirit look friendly and tame, like birthday candles. Sometimes Pentecost is called the birthday of the church. Like the burning bush of Moses, the holy fire doesn’t consume. The building under construction in the background can be interpreted as the foundation of the Christian church. The artist himself offered an alternative view: “I prefer to think of it as a reference to the story of the Tower of Babel.” The Holy Spirit turns her back on the half-built structure that symbolizes ungodly human arrogance, destined to be toppled by God.

Many of the previous paintings have a tight, sometimes claustrophobic focus. Blanchard’s Pentecost comes like a breath of fresh air that shows the big picture at last. The past comes into perspective and the viewer can see the neighborhood where Jesus lived and died. Blanchard says that he did not intend any particular location. Intersections like this are common in New York City. One of the many places it resembles is the site of the 1911 Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire where 146 garment workers died, the deadliest industrial disaster in New York history. That destructive fire contrasts with the transformative flames of the Spirit.

Viewers may be surprised to find Pentecost in a series on the Passion of Christ. Artists do not always conclude the Passion narrative with Jesus’ death, resurrection, or even his ascension. Blanchard acknowledges that one of the inspirations for this series is Albrecht Durer’s Albrecht Durer’s Small Passion. He follows the Durer’s example by continuing the Passion for two more panels after the Ascension. Both artists portray Pentecost as the next-to-last image. In Blanchard’s gay Passion, Pentecost is a stopping point near the end of the road from prison to paradise

Progressive Christians recognize the work of the Spirit when churches begin to embrace LGBT members, bless same-sex marriages, ordain openly LGBT clergy, and teach queer theology. In light of Pentecost, it may be significant that the most outrageously effeminate gay men have been disparaged as “flaming.” The bundles of sticks used to burn heretics were called “faggots,” now an insult for gay men.

The Pentecost story is good news for LGBT people because the Holy Spirit comes to ALL people, regardless of sexual orientation or gender identity. The Spirit ignites the desire to be true to oneself, even when that means being fully, flagrantly queer. LGBT people can identify with the Holy Spirit’s combustible mix of male and female. The Holy Spirit, whose own gender is ambiguous, welcomes those who are called bulldykes or fairies, amazons or eunuchs, transfolk or genderqueer, two-spirit or third-gender. Every language has words for queer people, and the story of Jesus has been translated into many languages. Thanks to the multi-lingual marvels of Pentecost, the gospel is now available with a gay accent.


“I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and the young shall see visions, and the old shall dream dreams.” -- Acts 2:17  (Inclusive Language Lectionary)

Jesus promised his friends that the Holy Spirit would come to empower them. They were together in the city on Pentecost when suddenly they heard a strong windstorm blowing in the sky. Tongues of fire appeared and separated to land on each one of them. Jesus’ friends were flaming, on fire with the Holy Spirit! Soon the Spirit led them to speak in other languages. All the excitement drew a big crowd. Good people from every race and nation came from all over the city. They brought their beautiful selves like the colors of the rainbow. Each one was able to hear about God in his or her own language. Inspired by the Holy Spirit, we too can hear and speak God’s story. We are the flaming friends of Christ!

Come, Holy Spirit, and kindle a flame of love in my heart.

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This is part of a series based on “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” a set of 24 paintings by Douglas Blanchard, with text by Kittredge Cherry. For the whole series, click here. The book version of “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision” was published in 2014 by Apocryphile Press.


Pentecost in literature
Pentecost is the final scene in “Jesus in Love: At the Cross,” a novel about an erotically alive Christ by lesbian Christian author Kittredge Cherry. Speaking in first person, Jesus blends male and female as he does humanity and divinity. The book includes a gay love story between Jesus and his disciple John. Here is an excerpt that imagines the Pentecost from the viewpoint of the risen Christ.

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When the Holy Spirit loved me, our contact produced a ripple of energy similar to a heartbeat. She was ringing me like a bell, and the “sound” would roll on forever.

“It is without end, because it is without beginning,” She said. She rang me again, and this time when the edge of her heart crossed mine, the rapture made me lose control and we melted into One.

Our union was so powerful that the people there could actually see and hear Us, like tongues of fire and a whoosh of wind. Our appearance didn’t scare them because they had been expecting Us. Some of my disciples stopped singing long enough to exclaim, “It’s the Holy Spirit!”

We kissed everyone in the room, being careful to cool Our kisses to a comfortable temperature for humans. We licked them with Our flaming tongues. They welcomed Our electric kisses. Each of them inhaled sharply and deeply in preparation for a sigh. We swept into them as breath, passed through each soul’s new doorway and fertilized the sacred chamber within. At the same time, their sparkling souls penetrated my divine heart and swam into a new womblike space that had just unfurled for them. The glorious friction made me feel flushed. Holy Spirit and human spirit were wedded, catalyzing a chain reaction of power bursts. Every soul in the room ignited in such a way that flames appeared to blaze from each person’s body. They looked around at each other’s auras in astonished admiration.

All that happened on one inhalation. When they exhaled, they could taste how much God loved them as We flowed over their tongues. They let their tongues flutter and writhe in ecstatic abandon. Each one released the tension of the wedding consummation in his or her own unique speaking style. Some of it sounded like gibberish to them as they praised God. Others spoke in exalted words.

For John, it came out as a quotation from the prophet Isaiah: “My whole being rejoices in my God, for He has wrapped me in the robe of justice, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.”

The Holy Spirit and I rode the sound waves of their voices, still actively making love. We granted everyone within listening range the same gift that I had received that morning: the ability to hear pure thought.

…Two passersby from far-flung Phrygia were the first to speak up. “Hey, do you hear that?” asked one.

“Somebody’s speaking Phrygian! Let’s go see who it is,” the other replied.

They hurried to the upper room and knocked on the door. My disciples were still jabbering their thanks to God, no longer afraid to let others see and hear them. They propped the door open for the crowd that was gathering as the ecstatic voices carried me to people from every nation who were living in Jerusalem.

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Related links:
Pentecost comes alive with erotic Christ (excerpt from the novel “At the Cross”)

The queer day of Pentecost (BleakTheology.com)

Pentecost is the Day the Church Came Out! By Robert Coats

Gender of the Holy Spirit at Wikipedia

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This post is part of the LGBT Calendar series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. The series celebrates religious and spiritual holidays, holy days, feast days, festivals, anniversaries, liturgical seasons and other occasions of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer people of faith and our allies.

Scripture quotations are from Revised Standard Version of the Bible, copyright © 1946, 1952, and 1971 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.

Scripture quotations are from the Inclusive Language Lectionary, copyright © 1985-88 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.

Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Sunday, May 08, 2016

Julian of Norwich: Celebrating Mother Jesus

“Julian of Norwich” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, TrinityStores.com

Julian of Norwich is a medieval English mystic who celebrated “Mother Jesus.” It’s not known if Julian herself was queer, but some of her ideas were. Julian is often listed with LGBT saints because of her genderbending visions of Jesus and God. This year her feast day falls on Mother’s Day (May 8, 2016).

Her discussions of Jesus as a mother sound radical even now, more than 600 years later.  Her omnigendered vision of the Trinity fits with contemporary feminist and queer theology.

Mother’s Day is also a great time to honor mothers whose love for their gay children helped launch LGBT organizations, including: Jeanne Manford and Adele Starr, founders of Parents, Families, and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG); and Edith “Mom” Perry of Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC).

Julian of Norwich (c.1342-1416) is the first woman to write a book in English. The book, “Revelations of Divine Love,” recounts a series of 16 visions that she experienced from May 8-13, 1373 during a severe illness when she was 30 years old. The book includes Julian’s most famous saying, “All shall be well and all shall be well and all manner of things shall be well” -- words spoken to her by God in one of Julian’s visions.

Julian of Norwich
from Wikimedia Commons

Later Julian went on to become an anchoress, a type of recluse who lives in a cell attached to a church and does contemplative prayer. Her hermit’s cell was at the Church of St. Julian in Norwich. The cell had two windows, one opening to the church and the other opening to the street. She became known throughout England for the spiritual counseling that she gave there.

Julian is considered the first Catholics to write at length about God as mother. Her profound ideas speak powerfully today to women and queer people of faith. “As truly as God is our Father, so truly is God our Mother,” Julian wrote.

Here are a few short quotes from Julian’s extensive writings about “Mother Jesus”:


“So Jesus Christ who sets good against evil is our real Mother. We owe our being to him--and this is the essence of motherhood! --and all the delightful, loving protection which ever follows. God is as really our Mother as he is our Father.“ (Chapter 59)

“So Jesus is our true Mother by nature at our first creation, and he is our true Mother in grace by taking on our created nature.” (Chapter 59)

“A mother can give her child milk to suck, but our dear mother Jesus can feed us with himself, and he does so most courteously and most tenderly with the holy sacrament, which is the precious food of life itself… The mother can lay the child tenderly to her breast, but our tender mother Jesus, he can familiarly lead us to his blessed breast through his sweet open side….” (Chapter 60)


These quotes come from modern English translations of “Revelations of Divine Love” by Elizabeth Spearing and Clifton Wolters. For longer quotations Click here.

“Dame Julian’s Hazelnut” by Brother Robert Lentz, OFM, TrinityStores.com

The sacred feminine is just one of the many revelations that have endeared Julian to the public. She also uses objects from ordinary life to illustrate God’s loving, forgiving nature. For example, in one vision God shows Julian a small object like a hazel-nut in the palm of her hand. Julian writes:


“I looked at it and thought, 'What can this be?' And the answer came to me, 'It is all that is made.' I wondered how it could last, for it was so small I thought it might suddenly disappear. And the answer in my mind was, 'It lasts and will last forever because God loves it; and in the same way everything exists through the love of God'.” (Chapter 5)


A longstanding legend tells of Julian’s friendship with her cat companion, depicted in the paintings at the top of this post. As an anchoress, Julian probably lived alone. It is said that the only other being to share her room was a cat -- for the practical purpose of keeping it free from rats and mice.

“Julian of Norwich,” a memorial drawing for his cat Betty, by Douglas Blanchard

New York painter Douglas Blanchard shows the saint with the artist’s own cat Betty in a drawing done as a memorial tribute to a beloved feline companion who died in 2013. He includes a favorite quote from Julian:

“He that made all things for love,
by that same love keepeth them,
and shall keep them without end.”

Blanchard is best known for his epic series “The Passion of Christ: A Gay Vision,” which is now available as a book. He teaches art and art history at the Bronx Community College of the City University of New York

Another icon of Julian and her cat was created by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar based in New York. Known for his innovative icons, he was rebuked by the church for painting LGBT saints and God as female.

“Julian of Norwich” by Tobias Haller

An elderly “Julian of Norwich” was sketched against a lavender background by Tobias Haller, an iconographer, author, composer, and vicar of Saint James Episcopal Church in the Bronx. He is the author of “Reasonable and Holy: Engaging Same-Sexuality.” Haller enjoys expanding the diversity of icons available by creating icons of LGBTQ people and other progressive holy figures as well as traditional saints. He and his spouse were united in a church wedding more than 30 years ago and a civil ceremony after same-sex marriage became legal in New York.

Julian lived a long life. The date of her death is unknown, but records show that she was still alive at age 73 to receive an inheritance. She was never formally canonized, but Julian is considered a saint by popular devotion. The Episcopal and Lutheran Churches keep her feast day on May 8.

Julian’s famous words are set to music in the song “All Will Be Well” by Meg Barnhouse, a Texas-based Unitarian minister and singer/songwriter. The moving song comes from her album “Mango Thoughts in a Meatloaf Town” and is available on YouTube.


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To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Juliana de Norwich: Celebración de la Madre Jesús (Santos Queer)
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Related links for Mother's Day:
Jeanne Manford: PFLAG founder loved her gay son

Adele Starr and others: Patron saints for straight allies of LGBT people

Edith “Mom” Perry, mother of Troy Perry and first heterosexual member of the Metropolitan Community Churches
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This post is part of the LGBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, heroes and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.
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Copyright © Kittredge Cherry. All rights reserved.
http://www.jesusinlove.blogspot.com/
Jesus in Love Blog on LGBT spirituality and the arts

Icons of Julian of Norwich and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com





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Tuesday, May 03, 2016

Madre Juana de la Cruz: Queer saint of 16th-century Spain

Portrait of Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez from Cubas de la Sagra, Madrid, Spain, circa 1600 (Wikipedia)

Madre Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez was an abbess in 16th-century Spain who insisted that God changed her gender in the womb, transforming her from male to female. Her feast day is May 3 -- which is both her birthday and also the day she died.

She also saw Jesus in queer ways, saying that Christ becomes whatever the seeker needs: father, mother, husband, wife, or friend. She blended sexuality and spirituality by envisioning the streets of heaven lined with marriage beds, each with God and a male or female saint. She had visionary experiences in which she lost consciousness and spoke in a deep voice that identified itself as Christ.

Some of her sermons are available in English for the first time in the 2016 book “Mother Juana de la Cruz, 1481-1534: Visionary Sermons,” edited by Jessica A. Boon and Ronald E. Surtz.

Juana was so controversial in her own time that her beatification was quashed, but modern scholars rediscovered her and the Vatican put her back on track for sainthood after an extensive review of her writings. Pope Francis issued a decree in March 2015 approving Juana’s “heroic virtues” and raising her to the status of “Venerable.”

Madre Juana’s genderbending life and theology are explored in the following article, written for the Jesus in Love Blog by Franciscan scholar Kevin Elphick. In 2016 he traveled to the convent where she lived, participating in “La Marcha de Santa Juana,” which recreates her flight from her family home, dressed as a man, to the convent.

“It is wonderful that 500 years later people are still celebrating this young woman (Santa Juana) turning her back on marriage and setting out for a community of women. A 15-year-old girl accompanied me on much of the trip and felt like a modern day-Juana. A young lesbian woman and her dog also walked with us. We sang ‘Resucito’ as we walked. It was a brilliantly sunny spring day, dripping with resurrection joy,” he said.

The March of Santa Juana in Cubas de la Sagra, Spain, April 2016 (photo by Kevin Elphick)

She is often called “Santa Juana” (Saint Juana) or “Madre Juana” (Mother Juana), but she is also known as Juana de Azaña, Juana de Cubas. She is a different person from another famous nun who had a similar name: Sor Juana de la Cruz of 17th-century Mexico.

“Madre Juana de la Cruz” by Lewis Williams

Madre Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez (1481 - 1534)

Imagine this scenario. You are talking to a woman who believes that she was originally conceived as a male, but in utero, became a female. This woman points to her Adam’s apple as evidence of her claim. She shares that when her family wanted her to be married off to a suitable gentleman, she fled her family home dressed as a man to escape. Likely by now, you might be speculating that this person might be transgender. But before you reach this conclusion, one more fact to add: This person was born in the year 1481. Unlike us, the 15th century had no technical language to describe being transgender. But what might the stories of our transgender ancestors sound like? Perhaps something like the story of Juana de la Cruz I suspect.

Although never canonized, in Spain Mother Juana is known as “Santa Juana de la Cruz,” Saint Juana of the Cross. Each year pilgrims in Spain recreate the journey of young Juana leaving her family and traveling to the safety of the Franciscan convent. Every April, they contemplate a young girl dressed as a man, traveling to a refuge where she could remove those clothes and put on the clothing of yet another man, spending the rest of her life dressed in the habit of St. Francis.

Venerable Juana could not be a more timely saint. What does she say to us today? I believe her message for us today is a vision of claiming whatever gender elements we experience as our own, and heroically integrating and accentuating them into our lives regardless of what critics say. Her creative and sensitive reimaging of Biblical stories challenges us to translate our sacred Scriptures and Traditions into stories relevant and palatable for our listeners today. And Juana’s own integration in her own person of male and female roles and attributes, models for us the challenge to achieve the same. In the midst of the Inquisition, she was an abbess, preacher, parish leader, visionary, theologian, and tender advocate for her own community of women. Given the many paradoxes she embodied, it speaks to her remarkable character and sanctity that she not only traversed Inquisitional scrutiny, she locally came to be venerated as a saint.

Juana was born to farmers in the Spanish village of Azaña (today: Numancia de la Sagra) in Spain on May 3, 1481. She would later tell her community that God had been originally fashioning her as a male in the womb of her mother, but upon the intervention of the Blessed Virgin, she was changed into a female. As proof of this miracle, Juana pointed to her Adam’s Apple (in Spanish “nuez … en la garganta,” literally “nut in the throat”), as evidence of divine intervention. By the time she was 15, her family had identified a man to espouse her, but Juana would have nothing of this plan. Instead, she dressed in men’s clothing and fled her family home, walking to a community of women religious to begin a new life for herself. Each March, Christians continue to recreate her journey annually, pilgrimaging to Cubas de la Sagra (near Madrid) to visit the convent of “Santa Juana” -- officially known as the Convent of Santa María de la Cruz.

Where a woman dressing as a man might seem odd as part of the story of a female saint, one need only think of St. Joan of Arc as a model for this pattern of holiness. Like St. Joan, depictions of Juana, her iconography, show her sanctity by portraying her dressed as a man. Other cross-dressing female saints include: Eugenia of Alexandria, Euphrosyne, Galla, Paula of Avila, Pelagia, and Wilgefortis. But for Juana, this dressing as a common man was transitory. Her goal was ultimately to clothe herself in the habit of another man, St. Francis of Assisi, by joining a community of Franciscan women. Now where some contemporary attitudes might find the homogenous celibate life of monasteries and convents to be potentially oppressive, in the past these homosocial communities were one of the few socially acceptable options for LGT persons to avoid otherwise socially prescribed heterosexual marriages.

Madre Juana de la Cruz and her guardian angel. The painting is behind the main altar of her church in Cubas de la Sagra, Madrid, Spain. Photo by Kevin Elphick.

In 1497 Juana professed as a member of the Franciscan sisters there in Cubas, Spain. By 1509, Juana was elected as Abbess of the community and became “Mother Juana.” Her community was unique in that it maintained a parish church and appointed its priest. Juana prudently appointed her own brother. Even more unique was Juana’s role in preaching lengthy locutions, giving detailed elaborations of Bible events and Jesus’ and Mary’s lives. These sermons were eventually collected in the book, El Libro del Conorte. It speaks to Juana’s personal charisma and vision, that in the midst of the Inquisition, she was both preaching and exercising oversight of a parish. To her credit, she sagely named God as the source and inspiration of her sermons, thereby placing the inquisitors in the position whereby if they questioned her, they were questioning God as well.

Juana’s expansive understanding of gender extended beyond herself. For her, Christ was both male and female as well. The blood and sweat of the Crucified Christ are evidence to Juana that at the cross, Jesus gave birth to us as our Mother. 

Most interestingly, in her Sermon on the Holy Innocents, Jesus addresses the martyred female infants and says to them: "I also am a little girl (niña) like you, because I am the child of a woman."

Juana is also partial to the gospel image of Jesus as the brooding mother hen (“Jerusalem, Jerusalem… how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings…” Matt. 23:37). For Juana, to imitate Christ is to imitate Mother Christ who keeps nestling souls safe beneath her protective wings. And still, this same Jesus is so expansive, that one gender alone is not adequate.

In one of Juana’s sermons, Jesus says: “And all those who seek in me a father, will find in me a father. And those who seek in me a mother, will find in me a mother. And those who seek in me a husband, will find in me a husband. And those who seek in me a bride, will find in me a bride. And those who seek in me a brother, or a friend, or a neighbor, or a companion, likewise will find in me everything they desire…”

[“E todos los que me quisieredes en padre, en padre me fallares. E los que me quisieredes en madre, en madre me falleres. E los que me quisieren en esposo, en esposo me fallaran. E los que me quisieren en esposa, en esposa me fallaran. E los que me quisieren en hermano o en amigo o en proximo o en conpanero, por semejante me fallaran para todo lo quisieren...”]

(Unless otherwise noted, the page references are quotes from: Ronald E Surtz, The Guitar of God: Gender, Power, and Authority in the Visionary World of Mother Juana de la Cruz; Philadelphia: University of Pennsylvania Press, 1990. pp. 95-96.) Juana’s characterization of Jesus himself as a bride is unique in Christian mystical literature. Ronald E Surtz, one of the primary authors to introduce Juana to English readers, explains that “…in Mother Juana’s visionary world the differences between the sexes are blurred.” p. 94. More than blurred, in Mother Juana the two genders are each hyper-accentuated, and attributes of both are unearthed and lauded in each person she encounters and sermonizes.

As a devout follower of St. Francis and St. Clare, Mother Juana was very faithful to the tradition of gender-bending that the Franciscan family had engendered. In many ways Juana follows the Franciscan trajectory of gender liminality to its logical outcomes. During his life, St. Francis had had a vision of himself as a mother hen with multitudes of Franciscan children beneath his wings. Juana describes Francis as “the hen [that] labors to brood the eggs” (p. 44) [“…la gallina se trabaja por sacar los huevos…” p. 153] and has God fondly refer to him in Heaven as God’s own “little brown hen.” (p. 45) [“la gallina morenita” p. 153] Juana believes herself to imitate both Francis and Jesus by her own maternal brooding over souls seeking heaven.

St. Clare had had a vision in which she nursed at the breast of a lactating St. Francis. Juana builds upon this vision, having Christ ask to see St. Francis’ breasts. (p. 45) Francis complies and indicates that he nurses all of his followers: “My breasts, O Lord, here they are for these that I bring with me …the breast of my desires.” (Surtz, p. 45) [“ ‘Muestrame tus tetas…’ ‘Mis tetas, Senor, helas aqui, que estos que aqui traigo comigo fueron last etas de mis deseos’ p.59] Where Clare had experienced an interior encounter with Francis as nursing mother, Juana universalizes the lactating Mother Francis as a source of maternal nourishment for all his followers, endorsed by Christ himself.

In her sermon for the Feast of St. Francis, Mother Juana completes the gender transformation of St. Francis by declaring him the Bride and Wife of Christ. The Lord asks Francis “If you want to be my wife” and more pointedly “...if you want to be united and have relations with me …” [Si quieres ser mi muger y si te quieres unir y ayuntar conmigo.] So when Francis consents, he explains: “I will be united with you like the wife is united with the husband.” [me ayuntare contigo, asi como la esposa se ayunta con el esposo., p. 154] Jesus invites him to realize this union by sharing in the intensity of his Passion, to which Francis agrees. Juana then explains as narrator “And he was so united with him in that hour that He [Jesus] imprinted him with his five wounds after the same manner he received them on the cross.” (p. 154) [y que asi fue tan ayuntado con el en aquella hora que le imprimio las sus cinco llagas de la manera que rescibio en la cruz, p. 154] Surtz explains that the verb Juana uses for unite, “ayuntar,” includes the meaning “to have sexual intercourse…” thereby adding a “sexual semantic charge” to the verb. (p. 95) For Juana, Francis not only becomes Christ’s wife, but in the moment of marital consummation, his flesh is also penetrated by the Passion of Christ. For a 15th-century celibate, Juana could not be more explicit.

Juana uses this same verb to equally describe the Lord’s embrace of St. Clare. In a sermon for the Feast of St. Clare, Juana describes God’s intimacy with Clare as so fecund, that she mystically births the Christ Child. For Juana, the ultimate union with God is a mystical marriage. She herself experienced this same union. And as a Franciscan, her spiritual experience was deeply embodied and physical. She described it this way: “The Lord embraced me and placed his feet on my feet and his knees on my knees…and his palms on mine and his head and body against mine.” (p. 68) [Entonces abrazome el Senor y puso sus pies en mis pies y sus rodillas en mis rodillas… e sus palmas en las mias e su caveza e cuerpo todo junto con el mio. p. 68]

A 17th-century Cardinal reviewing Juana’s cause for beatification censured this experience from her writings, noting chidingly “corpus corpori copulante.” But for Juana the spiritual experience is very physical, and in no way diminished by this physicality. Like Francis, her union with Christ necessitates sharing his bodily passion, and still it fills her “with his presence and with the taste and sweetness of his love.” (p. 68) [Inchavase con la presencia suya e con el gusto y dulcor de su amor. p. 68] In a vision described in the “Vida” of her life, Christ explains that their wedded union to each other necessitates shared mutual suffering. “Since you chose me…. as husband and spouse, and you were wedded to me…there has been such intimacy, [that] surely some of my frailty had to infect you. Therefore, whoever loves well must suffer from the lover whatever befalls…” (p. 37). As a fellow bride of Christ, like Francis, Juana received the stigmata. (However, she prayed that it be taken away, and her gentle Spouse complied.)

In point of fact, Juana’s eschatology appears to be largely that of a heaven of marital bliss. She uniquely imagines a heaven where the streets are lined with marriage beds. 

In her sermon, she places this vision in the mouth of God. “Just two persons were seated on each one of those loveliest of marriage beds that were along all the streets and corners of the kingdom of Heaven; one of them was [God] himself and the other was a male or female saint…the number of the elect …. will be many and incomparable, but …only two are to be united in faith and love, namely God and the soul.” (p. 96) [“…estavan en aquellos talamos preciosos que avia por todas las calles e cantones del reino de los cielos asentados en cada uno d’ellos solas dos personas, la una d’ellas hera El mesmo e la otra hera un santo o santa … el numero de los escogidos… mas que solos dos an de ser los ayuntados en una fe e amor, conviene a saber, Dios y el anima…” p. 96]

Juana does not flinch in envisioning marriage beds with same-sex or opposite-sexed pairings. For her what matters is the consummation of the Two united together. 

She explains of Christ that “when he came into the world to be incarnated…. He did not come for any reason other than to invite [us] to nuptials…” (p. 119) [“Porque quando El vino en el mundo a encarnar…Mas quando El venia …no venia a otra cosa sino a conbidar a bodas…” p. 119]

Juana can envision herself as male and Francis as female because for her, gender is not an exclusive and firm-boundaried experience. No one has exclusive rights to define either gender. In her native Spanish with its gendering of nouns, Juana explains that our soul (anima - feminine) and spirit (espiritu - masculine) point toward the reality that the human person is a composite of both female and male.

 “Because if woman has a soul, which is by name female, likewise man too has a soul… by name female, so that every man and woman can be called female. And, conversely, man and woman can be said ‘male’, because if man has a living and everlasting spirit, likewise woman has a living and everlasting spirit. Thus… man can be said ‘woman’ and woman can be said ‘man’, for both have a spirit and a living soul.” (p. 25) [Porque si la muger tiene anima, la qual se llama fenbra, por semejante tiene tanbien el honbre anima… llamada fenbra, de manera que todo honbre e muger se puede llamar fenbra. E por el contrario puede ser dicho el honbre e la muger varon porque si el honbre tiene espiritu biviente e permaneciente para siempre, por semejante tiene la muger espiritu biviente e permaneciente para siempre. Assi que honbre e muger todo es una cosa e un espiritu e un anima en cuanto el honbre puede ser dicho muger puede ser dicha honbre, pues entramos tienen espiritu e anima biviente. p. 25]

C. G. Jung would be pleased to have been so anticipated by Juana. Her tenacity and conviction that each gender is necessarily present and mutually essential extends even to the salvific event itself. For Juana, a solitary male Savior at Calvary is not sufficient. In Juana’s soteriology, the Passions of both Jesus and Mary are essential and salvific. An unwitnessed Passion cannot save. There must be the Suffering Servant and a witness, the Virgin, who voluntarily co-participates.

In Juana’s view, a man and woman occasioned the fall; equally so a woman and man remedy it. Juana envisions Mary’s co-participation in the work of the passion so that “…she was fully crucified in her soul, as he was in the body.” [“… era toda crucificada en el anima, asi como el lo era en el cuerpo”] [Jessica A. Boon’s “Mother Juana de la Cruz: Marian Visions and Female Preaching” in A New Companion to Hispanic Mysticism, ed. Hilaire Kallendorf, Boston: Brill, 2010., p. 147] The mutuality of this shared salvific experience is so thorough, that Juana changes the words of the cry of abandonment of Jesus from the cross to include also his mother. Instead of solely: “My God, my God, why have your forsaken me?” Juana adds these words: “My powerful Father! Why have you abandoned me, that I and my mother die?” [Padre mio poderoso! Por que me has desamparado que morimos yo y mi madre? p. 147] In the depths of the passion, Juana necessitates a gender mutuality in which both male and female are actors in the remedy of human salvation.

Uniquely, Mother Juana died on her birthday in the odor of sanctity on May 3, 1534 at the age of 53. Her community continues to this day, although it has transitioned to a community of Franciscan Poor Clare nuns. In 1997, the Fraternity of Santa Juana was created in association with the Poor Clares, advocating anew for Juana’s canonization. In his book, Writing Women in Late Medieval and Early Modern Spain: The Mothers of Saint Teresa of Avila, Surtz depicts Santa Juana as a literary “mother” to St. Teresa. Pope Francis has declared 2014-2015 as a Jubilee in Spain to celebrate the 500th anniversary of Teresa’s birth. It would seem fitting in this jubilee birthday celebration to ensure that the fiesta includes honoring the Mother also. Santa Juana is well worth celebrating. Pope Francis has been canonizing saints who have a long history of local veneration as “saint.” We may yet hear a declaration proclaiming her universally as the Saint she is.

It is my hope that one day Santa Juana will come to be formally recognized for her courage, sanctity, and leadership, all the more so as a patron saint for the LGBT community.

While it is miracle enough that Juana's cause for canonization was resurrected nearly 500 years after her death, and after extensive re-scrutinizing of her writings, the Vatican will now be looking for two more miracles to advance her cause to formal sainthood for the universal Church. Would it not be telling and affirming if Madre Juana decided to bestow these two miracles upon LGBTQ individuals? Imagine the witness and affirmation Juana would be giving from her place of divine nuptials in heaven to today's Church.

Holy Juana, pray for us your LGBT family and progeny.


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2016 update from Kevin Elphick:

Since the initial writing of this blog post, the first English translation of some of Juana's Sermons was published just last month, "Mother Juana de la Cruz, 1481-1534: Visionary Sermons." In these Sermons we see Mother Juana's continued emphasis on gender parity in the divine economy and further examples of Christ sharing marriage beds with both male and female saints. The book makes entire Sermons of Juana newly available to the English-speaking world.

Another effort by Ronald Surtz to make Juana's writings better known is his article, “The Privileging of the Feminine in the Trinity Sermon of Mother Juana de la Cruz” in the book, “Women's Voices and the Politics of the Spanish Empire” (University Press of the South). In this article, Surtz explores Juana's groundbreaking image of the Father and the Son as each, mutually pregnant with the other, a unique conceptualization of the theological principle of Perichoresis, the teaching that the Persons of the Trinity mutually indwell each other. Increasingly, Mother Juana is being made better known to English-speaking audiences through the efforts of Professor Surtz and others.


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Kevin Elphick is both a Franciscan scholar and a supervisor on a suicide prevention hotline in New York. He wrote a thesis on “Gender Liminality in the Franciscan Sources” for a master’s degree in Franciscan studies from St. Bonaventure University in New York. Elphick also has a master's degree in Religious Studies from Mundelein College in Chicago and a Doctorate in Ministry from Graduate Theological Foundation with a focus in ecumenism. He writes regularly for the Jesus in Love Blog about queer Franciscan subjects, including Francis of Assisi, Blessed Bartolo and Vivaldo, and Blessed John of La Verna. Elphick joined the Sisters of St. Francis in New York as a lay associate in 2014.

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Related links:

Pope gives first step to beatify nun Juana de la Cruz (lainfo.es)

Juana de la Cruz Vázquez Gutiérrez bio (Wikipedia)

Images of Santa Juana de la Cruz (most are from the convent of Santa Maria de la Cruz in Cubas)

To read this post in Spanish / en español, go to Santos Queer:
Madre Juana de la Cruz: ¿Una Santa Transgénero en la España del siglo XVI? (Santos Queer)

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This post is part of the GLBT Saints series by Kittredge Cherry at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints, martyrs, mystics, prophets, witnesses, heroes, holy people, humanitarians, deities and religious figures of special interest to lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) and queer people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.

Icons of Madre Juana de la Cruz and many others are available on cards, plaques, T-shirts, mugs, candles, mugs, and more at TrinityStores.com