Civil partnerships have been legal in the UK since 2004, and gay marriage even more recently. And whilst the Church of England has been tying itself in knots with whether they approve of gay unions, it may surprise you to learn that there are two centuries-old monuments in Cambridge college chapels that commemorate male relationships.
In the chapel of Gonville and Caius College, right in the heart of Cambridge, is a monument to Dr Thomas Legge, 1619. It shows Legge kneeling in prayer, in full academic red robes with white fur trim, and a fetching beard. Beneath him is a carving of two hands holding a flaming heart. The Latin inscription reads: “Love joined them living. So may the earth join them in their burial. Oh Legge, Gostlin’s heart you still have with you.”
John Gostlin arrived at Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge as a student in 1582, when Thomas Legge was already a fellow and master, and 30 years his senior. However both spent their lives as academics in the college, and a close friendship seems to have existed between the two: they were described by a contemporary as having “lived conjunctissime” – that is together, in a “conjugal” (marital) fashion. On Legge’s death, Gostlin designed and paid for a monument to him – and asked that when he died, he be buried nearby.
Across the city centre in Christs’ College Chapel, a monumental black and white marble tomb from 1684 commemorates the lives of Sir John Finch and Sir Thomas Baines, two physicians and diplomats who met at the college as students. The memorial features marble portraits of the two of them, linked by an elaborate floral chain tied in a marriage knot, and a single funerary urn.
The pair were known as “the doctors” to their friends, and lived together throughout their lives. They were physicians in Italy, and then travelled together to Turkey when Finch was appointed ambassador by Charles II. Baines died whilst they were in Turkey, and a grief-stricken Finch bought his body back to Cambridge. Finch described their partnership as “a beautiful and unbroken marriage of souls and a companionship undivided during thirty-six complete years”. Finch died just two years later. The text on their tombstone concludes: “So that they who while living had mingled their interests, fortunes, counsels, nay rather souls, might in the same manner, in death, at last mingle their sacred ashes.”
Today their portraits hang in the main gallery at the Fitzwilliam Museum, facing one another.
John Mason – Volunteer
Royal College of Physicians: https://history.rcplondon.ac.uk/blog/beautiful-and-unbroken-marriage-souls
Finch and Baines: A Seventeenth Century Friendship https://archive.org/details/finchbaines00mall/mode/2up