As was mentioned in the previous post about Ailred, the last years of his life were limited by his chronic arthritis. Despite that, he managed to spend time writing and even traveling on monastic or Church business. There is a frequently quoted incident from this period concerning a disgruntled, probably deranged, brother who came upon Ailred sitting on a mat before the fireplace in his special quarters near the infirmary. The brother picked up the ailing Abbot and threw him into the fire. Of course, there was a hue and a cry and help soon came and Ailred was unharmed; he asked the culprit to be released with no sanctions set upon him. He knew that the poor wretch was not responsible for his actions. Of course, everyone was very edified by the incident.
One of the members of the community had a vision of Ailred as if dead but gloriously splendid except for a small cloud shielding some of the brightness. He was told that Ailred needed to live a little longer so that cloud might be removed. It’s an interesting image admitting both the splendid impression made by Ailred and the clear sense, even among his admirers, that he was not perfect. After his death, some in the community would complain about Ailred’s favoritism; this is not a surprising criticism since friendship is a preferential love, more open to some than to others. Perhaps it was inevitable that some in the community would feel excluded from Ailred’s attention. Did some awareness of this flaw lead Ailred to the darker considerations of his later writings? If he were aware, was he too set in his ways and too infirm to change such an impression? If he had, would those who already felt slighted be capable of noticing a change in their Abbot? Perhaps one occupational hazard of any form of community life is to reduce individuals to caricatures and then never revise that image.
In any event, on 24 December 1166, Ailred made known to the community his desire to die. Walter Daniel, who may have had some medical training, provides some observations on Ailred’s declining condition. On 12 January, 1167, Ailred died piously and Walter Daniel assisted in the preparation of his corpse, and described the radiant beauty of the deceased. His life of Ailred is an evident pitch for his sanctity, but Ailred had to wait centuries to be recognized as a Saint, rather than a Blessed, on the Cistercian calendar. Be that as it may, a flawed man hungering and perserveringly moving towards God with an unaffected transparency is not a bad model and patron for any of us.