St. Aelred

Posted by Censor Librorum on Jan 24, 2008 | Categories: Lesbian in a Catholic Sort of Way

St. Aelred (1110-1167 A.D.) was gay.

When he was 24, he entered the Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx in the north of England. In 1147 be became abbott and guided the community of 300 monks until his death.

Aelred was one of the most influential men in his time. He counseled other abbots and bishops and corresponded frequently with kings and popes. He kept up a close friendship with King David I of Scotland, and acted as an advisor to King Henry II of England.

His literary output had a remarkable influence on the development of Christian spirituality. Major works include “Spiritual Friendship” and “Mirror of Charity.”

Aelred’s erotic attraction to men remained a dominant force throughout his life. However, unlike many other saints, he did not adopt an anti-physical attitude after he became a monk.

According to Walter Daniel, the biographer who lived under his rule for 17 years, Aelred allowed his monks to hold hands and approved other natural signs of affection between them. While most abbots harshly reprimanded any physical contacts, he placed great emphasis on the need for close same-sex interpersonal relationships.

Aelred fell in love with two fellow Cistercians. He described the second monk as “the refuge of my spirit, the sweet solace of my griefs, whose heart of love received me when fatigued from labors, whose counsel refreshed me when plunged in sadness…I deemed my heart in a fashion his, and his mine…We had but one mind and one soul…”

He incorporated his personal experience of gay love to write some of the best Medieval treatises on Christian friendship and the love of God. Aelred did not repress his homosexual feelings but integrated them into his monastic discipline and spiritual reflections.

“It is a great consolation in this life,” he wrote, “to have someone to whom you can be united in the most intimate embrace of the most sacred love…with whom you can rest, just the two of you, in the sleep of peace, away from the noise of the world, in the kiss of unity, with the sweetness of the Holy Spirit flowing over you…”

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3 Responses to “St. Aelred”

  1. Anonymous Says:

    Hello! Thank you for writing about Aelred… I was wondering where exactly that quote came from at the end of your blog? Which book of his and where is it located?
    Also, thank you for this site… it gives me hope for myself.

  2. Karen Doherty Says:

    Renee, it was nice to hear from you. I don’t have the article with me, but I’ll get the name of the book and post it here this weekend.
    Take care, Karen

  3. Karen Doherty Says:

    Hi, Renee, the quote is drawn from his book, “Mirror of Charity” pages 109-110. You may be able to order it through a Catholic bookstore, or check on and Karen

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