Friendship and love in the lives of two twelfth-century English saints

Ruth Mazo Karras

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10 Scopus citations


For twelfth-century religious the vow of chastity did not mean renouncing a rich affective life. Along with the love of God, Aelred of Rievaulx and Christina of Markyate both found room in their lives for profound emotional relationships with several individuals. These relationships were not carnal but to call them 'friendship' underestimates their strength and passion. The modern distinction between passionate sexual love and passionless asexual friendship is inappropriate here. 'Spiritual love' best describes these relationships: deep and exclusive without being carnal, involving the passions of the soul rather than those of the body. Vitae survive for both Christina and Aelred, and Aelred also wrote several treatises on the subject of love and friendship. The biographers and Aelred himself followed in a medieval tradition of using the language of erotic love to describe spiritual relationships. These spiritual love relationships did not fit the monastic ideal of love (caritas) towards all; they were particular and exclusive (in each person's life, the several relationships were sequetial, not simultaneous). But they do indicate that twelfth-century monasticism provided a channel for the emotions we today connect with erotic love, without the rupture of vows of chastity or virginity.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)305-320
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Medieval History
Issue number4
StatePublished - 1988

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