Rievaulx Abbey in a remote part of Yorkshire produced, in the twelfth century, one of the most loveable of all saints, St Aelred (feast day 12th January). Aelred was the abbot of the large monastery for twenty years. He was an excellent administrator. He needed to be, for the monastery had over 150 monks and over 500 lay brothers and servants.
However, Aelred’s greatness is most remembered for his spiritual writings and in particular for his writings on love and friendship. His writings show a tenderness and level of affection which have led some to suggest he was gay. Whatever, through the centuries down to our own times many people, of differing sexualities, have found Aelred to be an inspiration.
The monastery, and its people, was, for him a place of friendship, ‘a school of love.’ A place where people could be open to one another and where there was care, compassion, challenge and love. For Aelred these qualities had to be worked on. An essential was inner peace, being comfortable with who we are and not hiding behind false masks of our own making. Friendship and love for the other, in Aelred’s view, required acts of will. He encourages us to apply ourselves to make friends, to have the courage to share love with others, and have the openness to receive love.
Walter Daniel, a friend of Aelred and his biographer records Aelred as saying “Remember … that it is the singular and supreme glory of the house of Rievaulx that above all else it teaches tolerance of the weak and compassion for others in their necessities … All, whether weak or strong, should find in Rievaulx a place of peace .. The house which withholds toleration from the weak is not to be regarded as a house of religion, ”
These are inspiring words for Christians today, and inspiring words for us in our local churches as we seek to build them into ‘schools of love’ and ‘places of peace’ for all people.
A Prayer of St Aelred
Sweet Lord release wisdom from the seat of your greatness that it might be with us, toil with us, work with us, speak in us; may it according to your good pleasure direct our thoughts, words, and all our works and counsels, to the honor of your Name, the profit of the community and our salvation; through our friend Jesus Christ, to whom with you and the Holy Spirit be honour and glory throughout all ages. Amen
St Aelred of Rievaulx, inspire us, and pray for us!