Saint Aelred (1109-1167) is considered one of the most lovable saints, the patron saint of friendship and also, some say, gay. His feast day is Jan. 12.
Aelred was the abbott of the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in England. His treatise “On Spiritual Friendship” is still one of the best theological statements on the connection between human and spiritual love. “God is friendship… He who abides in friendship abides in God, and God in him,” he wrote, paraphrasing 1 John 4:16.
Aelred’s own deep friendships with men are described in “Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality” by Yale history professor John Boswell. “There can be little question that Aelred was gay and that his erotic attraction to men was a dominant force in his life,” Boswell wrote.
Boswell’s account inspired the members of the LGBT Episcopal group Integrity to name Aelred as their patron saint. Visit IntegrityUSA.org for the full story on how they won recognition for their gay saint.
Aelred certainly advocated chastity, but his passions are clear in his writing. He describes friendship with eloquence in this often-quoted passage:
“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.”
The icon of Saint Aelred was painted by Robert Lentz, a Franciscan friar and world-class iconographer known for his innovative icons. It includes a banner with Aelred’s words, “Friend cleaving to friend in the spirit of Christ.”
This post is part of the GLBT Saints series at the Jesus in Love Blog. Saints and holy people of special interest to gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender (GLBT) people and our allies are covered on appropriate dates throughout the year.