A Vatican appointee recently made headlines for noting some Catholic saints were “probably gay.” Of course, for years, LGBT people of faith have celebrated many saints as among their own. Behold a short list of the queer and saintly, from Catholic and other traditions.
This 12th-century abbot served in the court of Kind David of Scotland until 1134, when he entered the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx. His writings convinced historians John Boswell and Brian Patrick McGuire that Aelred was a gay man, albeit one who still discouraged any sexual activity outside the bounds of marriage. Several religious organization,s including the National Anglican Catholic Church and Integrity in the Episcopal Church in the United States have recognized Aelred as the patron saint of such gay-friendly groups as the Order of St. Aelred.
The subject of Joan of Arc’s sexuality and gender identity fills tomes. In Kelly DeVries’s essay "A Woman as a Leader of Men," published in the book Fresh Verdicts on Joan of Arc, the implications of her cross-dressing get explored in depth, and it’s undeniable that the martyr deviated from the gender norms and expectations of her era. While she took a distinctly female name, her gender-bending life became a major part of her trial for heresy.
The original Black Madonna of Czestochowa remains a highly regarded religious icon, and it also inspired the worship in Haiti of Erzulie Vantor, according to the scholarly blog Jesus in Love. Considered the patron saint of lesbians, Erzulir Vantor was a combination of the Black Madonna and the Haitian goddess Vodou.
An abbot in medieval France, Bernard of Clairvauz maintained a lengthy personal relationship with the archbishop Malachy, according to gay liberation theologian Richard Cleaver. After Malachy, an Irishman who also became a saint, died in Bernard’s arms, Bernard wore the fallen religious leader’s habits for his remaining years. Upon his own death, Bernard was buried alongside Malachy on church grounds.
Boris and brother Bleg would become the first saints canonized by the Russian Orthodox Church after the pair were assassinated by minions of half-brother Sviatopolk the Accursed. Boris would go on to hold special significance for gay Christians because of his apparently romantic relationship with his servant, George the Hungarian. Boris’s assailants pulled him from George’s embrace before murdering both men; Boris famously forgave his attackers before dying.
This 18th-century priest considered himself married not just to the Catholic Church but to Christ himself, according to biographer Henri Bechard. Bernardo would recount that in a vision, Christ said to him, “Consider my glory that of a Spouse. … All Mine is yours, and all yours is Mine. What I am by nature you share by grace.” The priest, who died at age 24, would be beatified in 2010.
Believed by some to be the last high priestess of the Celtic goddess Brigid, the nun Brigid would eventually become Ireland’s most famous female saint, according to Q Spirit. She would take in younger nun Darlughdad as a soul friend, the two growing so close they would share the same bed, and the women today are revered in parts of the world as lesbian saints.
St. Francis of Assisi may be remembered most in life for abandoning a life of luxury to devote himself to Christ and for emulating the messiah’s humble lifestyle, but Franciscan scholar Kevin Elphick also reveals he may have defied gender norms of the day and likely held deep affection for another man, perhaps Brother Elias of Cortana. He once allowed a woman to join a monastery after cutting her hair to let her look like a man and live as Brother Jacoba.
Declared a Doctor of the Church in 2013 by Pope Benedict XVI, many scholars believe this German nun showed a strong emotional attraction to women, most notably toward her assistant Richardis von Stade. That relationship was depicted in the 2009 film Vision by German feminist director Margarethe von Trotta.
This 16th-century Spanish saint was prone to using homoerotic imagery in poetry expressing his love of Christ, most notably in his poem “On a Dark Night.” The writings have made him an important figure to modern LGBT people of faith, as noted by Terence Weldon in Queer Spirituality.
There remains much debate about the identity of the follower of Christ referred to in the Gospel of John as “The Beloved Disciple,” with some believing the reference to be to Jesus’ brother James. But many queer-inclusive readings of the text through the centuries believe it to actually be the Apostle John. By that interpretation, such scripture as references to the disciple reclining upon the bosom of the Lord have inspired homoerotic art depicting the relationship between Christ and John as romantic. This is the view explored in Martti Nissinen and Kirsi Stjerna’s Homoeroticism in the Biblical World: A Historical Perspective.
Also in the running among scholars as the possible “Beloved Disciple” was Lazarus, with whom Jesus lived with for a period as family. The Rev. Nancy Wilson even suggests that Lazarus’ sisters, Mary and Martha, may have actually been lesbian lovers while Jesus and Lazarus lived together as male companions. Regardless, the Lazarus story of resurrection remains a parable often compared to the coming-out process and is therefore a celebrated tale among LGBT people of faith.
This 16th-century Spanish abbess would insist in her lifetime that God had changed her gender in the womb from male to female. Her sermons would similarly depict a gender-bending version of Christ and God, something so controversial in her time that the church would cut short her beatification. She has since become celebrated and revered by the trans community, and in 2015, Pope Francis restored her Venerable status, as reported by Q Spirit.
The 19th-century British subversive scholar was beatified in 2010, despite speculation that he may well have been gay. He lived for several years with Ambrose St. John, and though the men are believed to have remained celibate, Newman wrote that St. John “loved me with an intensity.” Newman asked to be buried beside St. John.
These Christian martyrs lived during the early persecution of the church in Africa under Emporer Severus, about which Perpetua would pen The Passion of St. Perpetua, St. Felicitas, and Their Companions. The writings describe how she met Felicity after both were imprisoned for practicing Christianity. Perpetua already had a child but makes no mention of her husband, and Felicity bore a child in prison as well. The women would live together until their deaths, when they were mauled by animals in a Carthage arena before being beheaded. Today, they are considered patron saints of lesbians.
A biography of this 17th-century Ethiopian saint, written 30 years after her death, described a longtime relationship with noblewoman turned nun Eheta Kristos. The two lived together, and while both had taken vows of celibacy, they openly proclaimed a romantic love for one.
These Roman soldiers were among the first same-sex lovers in the days of the early church, according to Yale historian John Boswell. A church would later be built in Polyeuct’s name in Constantine, and scholars point to this relationship as evidence of greater acceptance in the third century of same-sex relationships than the Catholic Church would show in later centuries.
Considered the main patron saint of gays by many, Sebastian was martyred in Rome in the year 288 on the orders of Emperor Diocletian. While no tales actually exist providing information about Sebastian’s love life or sexual orientation, the fact so much Renaissance art depicts him in homoerotic poses demonstrates a strong connection to LGBT people.
This pair of Romans who would eventually convert to Christianity were described in Greek text as “erastai,” or lovers, and may have been bonded in an actual “brother-making” ceremony. The two were tortured to death around the year 303 after refusing to attend a sacrifice to Zeus. The Jesus in Love blog also says the men were publicly shamed by being forced to walk the streets in wedding dresses and proclaim themselves brides of Christ.
These sixth-century Byzantine figures met on a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. The two ended up being joined in an early form of same-sex union before living together as hermits in the deserts for 29 years. Eventually,, Symeon left, despite emotional pleas from John to stay, to form a church in Emessa. The two would be honored together as saints and share the same holy day.
The monk Avertanus made the pilgrimage from France to Rome with companion Blessed Romeo around the year 1370. But while stopping to pray at every church, both apparently became ill with the Black Plague, and they died in the town of Lucca about a week apart, according to The Lives of the Saints. The couple would ultimately be buried together in a single coffin. In more contemporary times, the two would become recognized as the patron saints of the AIDS pandemic.
The 13th-century Franciscan holy men formed a close bond, so close that when Bartolo caught leprosy while ministering in an Italian hospital, Vivaldo followed him to a leper colony in which the men lived together for 20 years before Bartolo’s death. While not officially saints, the men are considered patron saints of AIDS and other disease epidemics including Ebola, and the pair frequently are pictured with Avertanus and Romeo.
Yes, the Good King Wenceslaus, a saint and a duke, also was likely gay. In fact, the famous Christmas carol tells the story of Wenceslaus walking with companion Podiven on the Feast of Stephen to deliver alms to the poor. According to Dennis O’Neill’s Passionate Holiness, Podiven was overcome with grief following Wenceslaus’ death in an apparent coup. After the younger man too was executed, he was buried with the fallen king.
The legend of Wilgefortis dates back to the 14th century, when the trans saint developed a cult following. Supposedly, Wilgefortis prayed to God to help her avoid marriage to a pagan, and then she miraculously grew a beard. The androgynous figure would be recognized as a saint by the Catholic Church and often depicted in art with a female form and male beard, but the church would suppress the sainthood in 1969.
A bisexual church figure in the Christian Roman Empire, Paulinus was married to a woman but wrote in poetry of an erotic relationship with the writer Ausonius. The writings made reference to such classical gay figures as Adonis and Ganymede.
Many scholars today believe the Roman soldier who in scripture proclaimed Jesus the son of God to be the martyr Longinus. Some of them, including John O’Neill and Tom Horner, note the original language in the Gospel of Matthew may have indicated a romantic interest to Christ.
Until his death in 1109, the archbishop of Canterbury, while most likely a devoted celibate, indicated same-sex yearnings and frustrations in letters collected by queer historian Rictor Norton. To his friend Gundulf, he wrote of the men’s “mutual affection,” and to apparent subject of affection William, Anslem wrote of an “insatiable desire.”
One of the most famous converts to Christianity, Augustine revealed in his Confessions that he had loved and may have even been intimate with another man. The relationship in fact was so strong, according to Augustine, that he considered suicide after the unnamed man’s death.
This king of England wed, but infamously took a number of male lovers, including Piers Gaveston. He would later be canonized as an English saint, though that did not have a blessing from Rome thanks to 14th-century European politics.
Christ saved Mary Magdalene from being stoned for adultery, and many have debated whether her relationship with Christ in fact was romantic. But she’s also been interpreted as queer, including in numerous works of art depicting her with Our Lady of Guadalupe.