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Aelred of Rievaulx
(1110 - 1167) Scotland

Aelred icon

Saint - Abbot - Feast day - January 12


Aelred is one of the most lovable saints. Of noble birth, Aelred was born in Hexham, Northumberland. He first lived at the court of David, Kind of Scotland. He was a friend of King David and also an adviser to Henry II of England. Everybody thought him happy, but he wrote: "nevertheless the wound in my heart caused me unspeakable torments and I could not bear the intolerable burden of my sins". In some passages of his autobiography, ii seems that Aelred felt some anxiety over the likely carnal dimention of friendship he had enjoyed while at the Scottish court.

He was a passionate and engaging medieval commentator on friendship (amicitia) between men: "There can be little question that Aelred was gay and that his erotic attraction to men was a dominant force in his life." (Boswell, John, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality, p. 222). Breaking the closest ties, he resolved to leave the world. "It was then, O my God," he went on, "that I began to taste the comfort, the joy, and the profound peace which is found after seeking you and serving you".

In 1135, at the age of twenty-six, Aelred entered the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx. Ten years later he became abbot, which he remained until his death in 1167. This monastery, where a great fervor and charity reigned, counted more than three hundred monks. Aelred who only sought "to love and to be loved", tasted pure happiness there whist making others happy. Among the writings of St. Aelred there are some in which the charms of spiritual friendship are extolled in an incomparable manner.

Aelred speaks of losing his heart to one boy and then another during his school days. He was a man of strong passions, who spoke openly of the men for whom he had deeply romantic attachments. After the death of one monk whom he loved, he wrote:

"The only one who would not be astonished to see Aelred living without Simon would be someone who did not know how pleasant it was for us to spend our life on earth together; how great a joy it would have been for us to journey to heaven in each other's company .... Weep, then, not because Simon has been taken up to heaven, but because Aelred has been left on earth, alone."

Aelred on the Need for Intimate Companionship

"It is no small consolation in this life to have someone you can unite with you in an intimate affection and the embrace of a holy love, someone in whom your spirit can rest, to whom you can pour out your soul, to whose pleasant exchanges, as to soothing songs, you can fly in sorrow... with whose spiritual kisses, as with remedial salves, you may draw out all the weariness of your restless anxieties. A man who can shed tears with you in your worries, be happy with you when things go well, search out with you the answers to your problems, whom with the ties of charity you can lead into the depths of your heart; ... where the sweetness of the Spirit flows between you, where you so join yourself and cleave to him that soul mingles with soul and two become one."


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