Rome is one of the quintessential destinations for any visit to Europe. The history, architecture and culture of this city are one-of-a-kind and are rivaled by few places in the world. But while it offers such a variety of sites and experiences to any traveler, it’s severely lacking a gay scene or even an acknowledgement that the community exists. No, Rome is not a “gay destination” and the Vatican City is one of the last places you’d think to find any tours for LGBT visitors.

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Ok, don’t freak out…but yes, there is actually a Gay Tour of the Vatican, or the Vatican Museums, that is – even the New York Times recently wrote a story about it. Our friends over at Quiiky Travelrecently created this ground-breaking tour giving you all the gay (and hidden) insights into the gay culture of the Vatican and the famous artists whose paintings fill its walls.
So without further adieu, here are 5 Gay Stories the Vatican Doesn’t Want You to Know…

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1. Michelangelo Was Gay?!
Just about anybody that’s made it through the 8th grade knows Michelangelo, including his two most famous works, the Sistine Chapel and his masterpiece, the statue of David. But what most don’t know is that he was gay…or at least there’s historical evidence proving that he was attracted to men. To be clear, the concept of being “gay” didn’t exist until the early 20th century after Sigmund Freud was the first to address homosexuality in a public and professional manner. But historians have actually come to the conclusion that Michelangelo was “gay” and there are records that he had a number of male lovers over the years. Some historians will disagree – but I’d expect these are the conservatives and especially those tied to the Catholic Church itself.

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2. Leonardo da Vinci was Accused of Sodomy
Historical documents have shown that Leonardo da Vinci was accused of sodomy…two separate times. I’m sorry, but I never learned this in art or history class. Obviously it’s a story kept out of the history books and surely one the Vatican would be happy to deny. Though he was never convicted of the crime (a serious offence in those days), historians have concluded that he was also “gay,” just like so many of the artists in the time of the Renaissance whose art you’ll find in the Vatican Museums.

3. St. Sebastian is the Unofficial (& Homoerotic) Patron Saint of the Gays
What the what?! Who is St. Sebastian and how did he become the patron saint of the gays? For those not familiar with the Catholic tradition, a patron saint is someone who represents and looks after a certain group of people. For example: St Patrick, the patron saint of Ireland, St. Michael the patron saint of the sick and St. Valentine the patron saint of love…you get the idea. So naturally the Vatican would have nothing to do with this, but many devout gay Catholics in Italy and around the world have looked to St. Sebastian for protection. Ok, so why St. Sebastian…?
Probably because of this paintaing…typical, and kind of hot, right?!

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4. Gay Lovers in the Sistine Chapel?
One of the most revered pieces of artwork in the world, the paintings lining the inner walls and ceiling of the Sistine Chapel was one of Michelangelo’s most famous masterpieces, taking more than 4 years to complete. So what about gay lovers, you say? Face the far wall of the chapel and look to the top right corner. You’ll find three sets of men embracing each other. There is even historical evidence that one of these couples represents an aging Michelangelo and one of his young lovers, perhaps Cecchino dei Bracci, Gherardo Perini or Tommaso Cavalieri…well the list goes on and on.

5. There was a gay Pope?!
First of all, it’s likely that there have been numerous gay Popes over the centuries. Realize that there have been 266 Popes since the foundation of the Catholic Church – so you do the math. In fact, there are rumors inside the Vatican now about a more recent Pope who had an “intimate” relationship with one of the Swiss guards who was later discharged and classified as “mentally unstable,” according to the Vatican’s medical professionals. And given that the rumor comes from the wife of a current Swiss guard, it’s not unlikely that there is some truth in it.

But this story isn’t about the recent unnamed Pope, but rather Pope Julius II – who is known by historians to have had numerous homosexual relationships. Naturally, any Vatican official would deny this but there is overwhelming evidence from a variety of different sources. According to the Queers in History Blog, “Julius’s enthusiastic patronage of Michelangelo’s homoerotic depictions of the male figure also indicates that he may have fully appreciated the physical beauties of men.” We’ll let that speak for itself…

Oh and one final note, Pope Julius II was the one who actually commissioned Michelangelo to paint the Sistine Chapel. See the connection now?!