Saint Aelred – the Patron Saint of Integrity

How St. Aelred Became the Patron of Integrity

by the Rev. Paul Woodrum

At the 1984 General Convention in Pasadena, CA, The Standing Commission on Liturgy and Music recommended Aelred, along with a number of others, for inclusion in Lesser Feasts and Fasts. When this resolution came before the House of Bishops, the preconversion Rt. Rev. John Shelby Spong informed the house that, according to John Boswell, Aelred of Rievaulx had been gay implying this might disqualify his inclusion.

With little discussion The House of Bishops approved the others on the list but sent Aelred back to the commission which sent him back to the House of Bishops where, in spite of his being gay, and with the bishops’ full knowledge that he was, he was admitted to the calendar.

That this was the first person openly acknowledged to be gay to be formally admitted into ECUSA’s liturgical calendar engaged my sense of irony and inspired my resolution submitted to the 1987 St. Louis, national convention of Integrity, Inc.:

“Whereas the Episcopal Church USA meeting in General Convention in Anaheim, California, in 1985, with full knowledge, thanks to the vigilance of the bishop of Newark, of St. Aelred’s homoerotic orientation, did approve for annual commemoration in her liturgical calendar the Feast of St. Aelred on 12 January and did provide propers for the same, Therefore be it resolved that Integrity Inc. place itself under the protection and patronage of St. Aelred of Rievaulx and, be it further resolved that Integrity, Inc. dedicate itself to regularly observe his feast, promote his veneration and seek before the heavenly throne of grace the support of his prayers on behalf of justice and acceptance for lesbians and gay men.”

A Biography of St. Aelred

January is the month in which we celebrate the Feast of Aelred, the patron saint of Integrity, and so it seemed appropriate to include a brief biography of the fellow.

He seems, at first, an odd choice for patron. He was a celibate, a monk in the Cistercian order living in Rievaulx, England. He entered the order in 1134 at the age of 24; in 1147 he became abbot of Rievaulx until his death 20 years later. In his Rule of Life for a Recluse, written for an unnamed hermitess, he warns in strident tones about safeguarding her virginity from defilement either with men or with women. He never felt his own sexuality was entirely in his control, either. As novice-master, responsible for the training of impressionable young men, he found it necessary to build a concealed tank in which he could immerse himself in icy waters to bridle his physical passions. Even in his final days, sick and aged, he felt his celibacy was in need of vigilant protection.

But Aelred had, more than any other saint I know, a deep appreciation for friendship, and by that is meant the particular love between two individuals. Our tradition teaches us much about universal charity, the love of all humankind. We hear far less about the worthy love between two people, as exemplified by the love between Naomi and Ruth, or between Jesus and John, the “beloved disciple.”

Of all the gifts Aelred has given the Church, the one most uniquely his is the joyous affirmation that we move toward God in and through our relationships with other people, not apart from or in spite of them. It is important, too, to remember who those particular individuals were, whose love taught Aelred of the love of God. Aelred himself 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 clearly 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.

The friendship Aelred so eloquently described he sums up in this 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.

With grateful acknowledgement to Aelred of Rievaulx, by A. Squire, and a sermon on “Friendship” by Mr. Raymond Maher, delivered to Integrity/New York on Jan. 14, 1988.

Copyright 1992 Integrity/El Camino Real

A Timeline of St. Aelred’s Life

1110: Born Hexham, England.

1130: Steward, Court of King David (son of St. Margaret) of Scotland.

1134: Entered Cistercian Order at Rievaulx, England.

1142: Novice Master at Rievaulx.

1143: Abbot of Revesby, daughter house of Rievaulx.

1147: Abbot of Rievaulx.

1167: January 12, died at Rievaulx.

1476: Feast promulgated by Cistercian Order.

1985: Feast accepted for observance as a Black Letter Day by the General Convention of the Episcopal Church, U.S.A.

1987: Adopted as Patron Saint of Integrity, Inc.

Propers for the Feast of Aelred, January 12


Pour into our hearts, 0 God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of love, that we, clasping each the other’s hand, may share the joy of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant Aelred draw many into your community of love; through Jesus Christ the Righteous, who lives and reigns with you in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Old Testament: II Samuel 1:17a, 19 (20-22), 23-27 or Ruth 1:8, 14b-17

Psalm: 36:5-10 or 145:8-13

Epistle: Philippians 2:1-4

Alleluia Verse: Psalm 25:9,13

Gospel: John 15:9-17 or Mark 12:28-34a

Hymn Stanza Honoring St. Aelred

For use as 2nd stanza with Hymn 231, King’s Lynn, or Hymn 232, Nyland, (The Hymnal 1982).

All praise for Abbot Aelred, our Patron Saint and gay, who found through joyful friendship, the path to Jesus lay. Like Aelred, may we mirror love, human and divine; and, clasping hands together, God’s blest communion find.

by L. Paul Woodrum, 1987

A Prayer of Aelred of Rievaulx

Sweet Lord, release wisdom from the seat of your greatness that it may 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 honor and glory throughout all ages. Amen.

Adapted from St. Aelred’s Pastoral Prayer by L. Paul Woodrum

2 thoughts on “Saint Aelred – the Patron Saint of Integrity

  1. Thank you so much for sharing all of this. Let’s see if I can find a way to incorporate it into the Eucharist on the 13th.

  2. Pingback: Aelred « wonderful exchange

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