chapter  11
6 Pages

Soul Friend

WithThomas Lawrence Long

My friend, Ken, and I stand in the sanctuary of the abandoned English Cistercian Abbey of Rievaulx, “bare ruined choirs where late the sweet birds sang” as William Shakespeare might have imagined it. Hidden at the base of a steep hill beside “Rye Valley” because cleanliness was next to godliness for austere Cistercian monks in the twelfth century and off the beaten track because Cistercians love isolation, this once-thriving religious establishment was literally pulled down during the reign of the insatiably heterosexual Henry VIII, along with all the other monasteries and convents in England, who excused the desecration as a purging of vice-chiefly sodomy, he claimedwhich he had also legislated into a capital crime, punishable by death. If ghosts haunt this place, they may include those of a sixteenth-century workman accidentally buried under a pile of rubble while razing

the walls (but not discovered until archeological excavations in the nineteenth century), its last monks at the dissolution, and the medieval abbot whose writing about male friendship has made him a patron saint of queer men, Aelred of Rievaulx.