St. John of the Cross

I came across St. John of the cross (San Juan de la Cruz) when looking at the works of Bill Viola.

Link: Bill Viola -Room for St John of the Cross


I ordered a book of the poems of St. John of the Cross (1542-91).

Reading through I found the first poem that resinated with me was...

The Dark Night of the Soul

by John of the Cross

1. One dark night, fired with love’s urgent longings – ah, the sheer grace! – I went out unseen, my house being now all stilled.

2. In darkness, and secure, by the secret ladder, disguised, – ah, the sheer grace! – in darkness and concealment, my house being now all stilled.

3. On that glad night, in secret, for no one saw me, nor did I look at anything, with no other light or guide than the one that burned in my heart.

4. This guided me more surely than the light of noon to where he was awaiting me – him I knew so well – there in a place where no one appeared.

5. O guiding night! O night more lovely than the dawn! O night that has united the Lover with his beloved, transforming the beloved in her Lover.

6. Upon my flowering breast which I kept wholly for him alone, there he lay sleeping, and I caressing him there in a breeze from the fanning cedars.

7. When the breeze blew from the turret, as I parted his hair, it wounded my neck with its gentle hand, suspending all my senses.

8. I abandoned and forgot myself, laying my face on my Beloved; all things ceased; I went out from myself, leaving my cares forgotten among the lilies.

From: THE COLLECTED WORKS OF ST. JOHN OF THE CROSS, translated by Kieran Kavanaugh, OCD, and Otilio Rodriguez, OCD, revised edition (1991). Copyright 1991 ICS Publications.

I came across this website claiming St. John of the Cross as gay and reflecting on the homoerotic connotations of the poem. This interested me as I felt a connection with the poem and heard it in the way that Kittredge explains.

John of the Cross: Dark night of a gay soul honored in art and poetry

“The Dark Night of the Soul,” a spiritual classic with homoerotic overtones, was written by 16th-century Spanish mystic Saint John of the Cross, also known as San Juan de la Cruz. His feast day is Dec. 14.

Like some other mystics, John of the Cross (1542-1591) used the metaphor of erotic love to describe his relationship with Christ. Since Jesus was born male, his poetry inevitably celebrates same-sex love. Christian tradition tries to make this kind of poetry into heterosexual eroticism by considering the soul and the church to be female while God is male. Hear how passionately John speaks about Christ in these verses translated by A.Z. Foreman:

O night that can unite A lover and loved one, A lover and loved one moved in unison. And on my flowering breast Which I had kept for him and him alone He slept as I caressed And loved him for my own.


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Derek Dickinson