The Spiritual Castle

“The blessed Virgin Mary herself, whose glorious assumption we are celebrating today, was beyond doubt blest because she welcomed the Son of God in body but she was more blest because she had welcomed him in spirit…let us make ready a spiritual castle and our Lord shall come to us.  I dare say that if the Blessed Mary had not prepared this castle within herself, the Lord Jesus would not have entered her womb or her spirit.” Aelred of Rievaulx, ‘Sermon 19: For the Assumption of Saint Mary’ in Aelred of Rievaulx: The Liturgical Sermons, trans. Theodore Berkeley and M. Basil Pennington (Kalamazoo 2001), p. 264. [Emphasis  added]

In the twelfth century, preachers increasingly focused on devotion to the Blessed Virgin Mary as the locus of the incarnation of Christ and the divine virtues associated with her.  These theologians also exhorted their hearers (or readers) to imitate Mary and her virtues.  Preachers, like Aelred, used an allegorical interpretation of the Latin word, castellum.  While the word, castle, derives from this Latin word, it could also mean simply, village or town.  The Gospel reading for this sermon contained Luke 10:38: “Now it came to pass as they went, that he entered into a certain town (castellum): and a certain woman named Martha, received him into her house.” 

Aelred imagines the Blessed Virgin to be a spiritual castle associated with certain virtues and calls upon his fellow monks to emulate those virtues by building a castle within themselves. He explained how a castle has three main parts: a moat, a wall, and a tower. The moat corresponds to humility because this virtue must be established in the heart. The spiritual wall is chastity that arises out of a humble heart. Finally, the tower is charity because charity rises above all the other virtues. The Virgin Mary possessed humility, chastity, and charity more than any others. Especially, charity, as Aelred explained:

“Who can say how perfectly the most blessed Mary this tower? If Peter loved his Lord, how much did the Blessed Mary love her Lord and her Son! How much she loves her neighbors–that is, [all] men and women–is demonstrated by the many miracles and the many visions by which the Lord has deigned to show that she prays in a special way to her Son for the whole human race.” Ibid., 267.


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