Lives of the Saints
Lives of the Saints
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St. Aelred of Rievaulx

St. Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167) was a twelfth century English monk who belonged to the Catholic religious order called the Cistercians. He became abbot of the monastery of Rievaulx in the Diocese of York in 1147, and remained the spiritual father of that community until his death in 1167.

St. Aelred of RievaulxSt. Aelred was born in Hexham, England and brought up in Northumbria (medieval kingdom which is now Northern England and South-East Scotland), which was steeped in the traditions of Celtic monasticism. St Aelred came from a family of married priests, his father and grandfather both ministered in Hexham, the last of a dying generation as Rome was instituting mandated celibacy throughout the Church. St. Aelred spent his early years at the court of King David of Scotland (youngest son of St. Margaret of Scotland) and was made the king's steward at the age of twenty-two. He was clearly marked for great things. He was beloved for his piety, gentleness and spirituality.

However, during the course of a journey while on business for the king, he came across the monastery of Rievaulx and was drawn by the beauty of the place and the austere simplicity of the “White Monks” (members of the Cistercian Order wore a white-robed habit). He left Scotland at twenty-four and became a Cistercian monk. He was made abbot of a new Cistercian monastery in Revesvby, Lincolnshire (age 32) and five years later returned to Rievaulx as abbot. Famed for his preaching and asceticism, he traveled widely in England and Scotland and was considered a saint in his own life time.

It became clear at an early stage of his monastic life that Aelred had a gift for directing others, a capacity which was marked by compassion and gentleness. St. Bernard, Abbot of the Cistercian monastery at Clairvaux, France, officially recognized this by asking him to write a spiritual directory for newcomers to Cistercian life, The Mirror of Charity, which reflects Aelred's spiritual insights.

Besides being a sensitive pastor, he was also a spiritual writer of remarkable depth. In his later years, with a long period of involvement in the pastoral care of his monks behind him, he wrote what has come to be acknowledged as a spiritual classic, a short treatise entitled On Spiritual Friendship. When he became abbot, the numbers at Rievaulx escalated to hundreds as he rarely turned young aspirants away. At his death on January 12, 1167, there were three hundred members of the monastic community at Rievaulx, including priests, choir monks and lay brothers.

Resources on St. Aelred of Rievaulx

“Aelred of Rievaulx: On Spiritual Friendship.” (accessed June 30, 2012).  Originally published in Spirituality (September-October 1996), a publication of the Irish Dominicans.  No author is cited.

Delaney, John J.   Dictionary of Saints.   Garden City, NY:   Doubleday & Company, Inc., 1980.

St. Aelred of Rievaulx.   Spiritual Friendship.  Translated by Lawrence C. Braceland, S.J.   Collegeville, MN:  Liturgical Press, 2010.

Squire, O.P., Aelred.   “Friendship and Spiritual Direction.”   Monastic Studies 12 (1976):  227-38.