Queer Saints: Aelred of Rievaulx

My plan for June 2022 was to write several articles about medieval queerness. However, life was very busy and I did not get around to doing that. So instead I’m posting a mini article that was originally a caption on one of my Instagram posts.

Aelred of Rievaulx sitting in an initial with a scroll | Douai, Bibliothèque municipale, MS 392 f.3

Aelred of Rievaulx was a 12th century Cistercian abbot. One of the many topics Aelred of Rievaulx wrote about was the love he felt for other men and love between men. 

While I don’t know if Aelred would call himself gay or bisexual or something else, there is a lot of homoerotic language in his work “Spiritual Friendship.” Throughout the work he discusses in detail how to love and what true friendship is. 

For my modern audience, it’s important to note that passionate love doesn’t have to include lust/intimate relations. You can love without sex just like you can have sex without love.

Here are some sections that particularly stood out to me:

In Book 2, sections 21-27 of Spiritual Friendship, Aelred describes all the different types of kissing people can do. Some of the kissing he means literally but others are metaphors for spiritual connections between people and God. 

In Book 3, section 82, Aelred discusses how much he loves the monks in his care. 

In Book 3, sections 85-87 the monks Aelred talks to describes their passionate friendship with each other and Aelred warns them they have a carnal friendship but it could grow into a spiritual one. 

In Book 3, sections 119-130 Aelred describes in detail two of his most intimate relationships, including one where his friend warns him that their “love should not be measured according to the comfort of the flesh, lest this be attributed more to [Aelred’s] carnal affection.”


Frick, Peter, and of Rievaulx Staff Aelred. Aelred of Rievaulx : Spiritual Friendship, edited by Marsha L. Dutton, Liturgical Press, 2010. ProQuest Ebook Central.

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