Pilgrimage to the Abbey of Rievaulx

As I’ve mentioned previously, I’ve been traveling in England recently.  I’m here for World Pride 2012 celebrations and conferences, and I’m doing a bit of sightseeing while here.

St. Aelred, in an icon by Robert Lentz

One place that I was eager to visit was the ruins of the Abbey of Rievaulx, a 12th-century Cistercian foundation in northern England, which at one point was guided by St. Aelred.   St. Aelred has become a favorite patron of many gay Catholics because he wrote so beautifully on the gifts of spiritual friendship and love between men.  His writings express the beauty of relationship and personal intimacy which he believed were the great signs of God’s love.

You can read a short biography of St. Aelred here.

In an archived blog post on QueeringTheChurch.com, Terence Weldon offer a commentary on St. Aelred, including this excerpt from his masterwork, On Spiritual Friendship:

“It is no small consolation in this life to have someone to whom you can be united in the intimate embrace of the most sacred love;  in whom your spirit can rest; to whom you can pour out your soul; in whose delightful company, as in a sweet consoling song, you can take comfort in the midst of sadness;  in whose most welcome, friendly bosom you can find peace in so many worldly setbacks; to whose loving heart you can open, as freely as you would to yourself, your innermost thoughts; through whose spiritual kisses – as by some medicine – you are cured of the sickness of care and worry; who weeps with you in sorrow, rejoices with you in joy, and wonders with you in doubt; whom you draw by the fetters of love into that inner room of your soul, so that though the body is absent, the spirit is there, and you can confer all alone, the two of you, in the sleep of peace away from the noise of the world, in the embrace of love, in the kiss of unity, with the Holy Spirit flowing over you; to whom you so join and unite yourself that you mix soul with soul, and two become one.”

When King Henry VIII  dissolved the  Roman Catholic monasteries as part of his campaign to establish himself as head of the Church of England,  the Abbey of Rievaulx was closed and destroyed.  The ruins, located about 20 miles outside of York, are among the most well-preserved in England.  There is no public transportation directly to them, so I ended up doing a three-mile hike from the town of Helmsley to reach them.  It was a beautiful walk across farmland, meadows, and woods.  While there I made a special prayer to St. Aelred for LGBT Catholics all over the world, and that our church might soon appreciate his wonderful thoughts on relationship and friendship.

Here are some photos of my visit there.  I hope they give you some sense of the beauty and serenity that I experienced there:

The church at the abbey

A portion of the abbey ruins

Inside the nave of the abbey church

Entrance to the abbey church

Chapter Room, site of many conferences St. Aelred gave to the monks

Archway leading to the refectory

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