Sidney Starr, ‘André Raffalovich’, oil painting

Photograph by Neil McLean. Image reproduced with permission.

Marc-André Raffalovich, the son of a wealthy banker, came to Britain in 1882, where, for a time, he became a friend of Oscar Wilde. In 1884 he published Cyril and Lionel and other poems: a volume of sentimental studies, which discreetly celebrated homoerotic passion. A second book of poems, Tuberose and meadowsweet, appeared a year later. Arthur Symons introduced Raffalovich to John Gray, another friend (soon to be former friend) of Wilde and the model for the latter’s Dorian Gray. Raffalovich and Gray became best friends, separately writing two playlets for performance at the West Theatre, Albert Hall, on 17 April 1894, and writing jointly a play, The Blackmailers, performed on 7 June in the same year. It was not a success. Raffalovich, though interested in the psychology of homosexuality (then termed ‘Uranism’), disapproved of Wilde’s libertinism. His Uranisme et unisexualité: étude sur différentes manifestations de l’instinct sexuel was published in 1896.

John Gray had become a Catholic in 1890. Under his influence, Raffalovich became interested in the sublimation or transcendence of erotic desire in love for Christ. In February 1896 Raffalovich converted from Judaism to Catholicism. Gray soon entered the Scots College in Rome, and was ordained a priest in 1901, returning to Scotland where he would minister for many years in Edinburgh.

Both men developed close links to the Dominicans. Raffalovich became a Dominican tertiary in October 1888, taking the religious name of Sebastian. He was to be a major benefactor to the English Dominicans, and paid for the building of their priory, St Sebastian’s, at Pendleton in Manchester. Canon Gray, too, had become a Dominican tertiary in 1889. Friars frequently preached at his Edinburgh parish. Both contributed to the English Dominican monthly Blackfriars. Raffalovich wrote in the periodical from 1927 to 1929 under the pseudonym of ‘Alexander Michaelson’. Gray contributed regular pieces to Blackfriars from late 1924 onwards, and instalments of his ‘A fantastic story’ were published there in (November 1931, January, March, and April 1932). It then appeared as a book printed by the Hague and Gill Press. Both men were friends and patrons of Eric Gill. Raffalovich commissioned a statue of St Sebastian from him in 1920. Raffalovich died early in the morning on Ash Wednesday, February 14th, 1934. He had heard Eric Gill lecture the evening before (Gill was staying with the canon). Gray conducted the requiem. He died soon afterwards from a chill, it was said, caught in the cemetery when burying Raffalovich.

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