Ailred of rievaulx

Saint Aelred of Rievaulx
Born 1110
Hexham, Northumberland, England
Died 12 January 1167(1167-01-12)
Rievaulx, Yorkshire, England
Honored in Roman Catholic Church;
Anglican Communion
Major shrine Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire, England
Feast 12 January
Attributes Abbot holding a book
Patronage bladder stone sufferers

Aelred (1110 – 12 January 1167), also Ailred, Ælred, Æthelred, etc., was an English writer, abbot of Rievaulx (from 1147 until his death), and saint.


Aelred was born in Hexham, Northumbria, in 1110,[1] one of three sons of Eilaf, priest of St Andrew's at Hexham and himself a son of Eilaf, treasurer of Durham.[2]

Aelred spent several years at the court of King David I of Scotland in Roxburgh, possibly from the age of 14,[3] rising to the rank of echonomus[4] (often termed 'steward' or 'Master of the Household') before leaving the court at age twenty-four (in 1134) to enter the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire.[5] He may have been partially educated by Lawrence of Durham, who sent him a hagiography of Saint Brigid.

From 1142-3, Aelred was novice master at Rievaulx. In 1143, he became the first abbot[6] of a new daughter house of Rievaulx at Revesby in Lincolnshire. In 1147, he was elected abbot of Rievaulx itself, a position he was to hold until his death. Under his administration, the abbey is said to have grown to some 140 monks and 500 conversi and laymen.[7] His role also an amount of travel. Cistercian abbots were expected to make annual visitations to daughter-houses, and Rievaulx had five in England and Scotland by the time Aelred held office.[8] Moreover, presumably for the first ten years of his term, at least until he was granted various indulgences in these matters, Aelred had to make the long sea journey to the annual general chapter of the Order at Cîteaux.[9]

Alongside his role as an abbot, Aelred was involved throughout his life in political affairs. In 1138, when Rievaulx's patron, Walter Espec, was to surrender his castle at Wark to King David of Scotland, Aelred accompanied Abbot William of Rievaulx to the Scottish border to negotiate the transfer. In 1142 Aelred travelled to Rome, alongside Walter of London, Archdeacon of York, to represent before Pope Innocent II a group of northern prelates who opposed the election of King Stephen's nephew William as archbishop of York (the result of the journey was that Aelred brought back a letter from Innocent summoning the superiors that Aelred represented to appear in Rome the following March in order to make their deposition in the required canonical form; the resulting negotiations would drag on for many years).[10] The fourteenth-century version of the Peterborough Chronicle states that Aelred's efforts during the twelfth-century papal schism brought about Henry II's decisive support for the Cistercian candidate, resulting in 1161 in the formal recognition of Pope Alexander III.[11]

Aelred wrote several influential books on spirituality, among them Speculum caritatis ("The Mirror of Charity," reportedly written at the request of Bernard of Clairvaux) and De spiritali amicitia ("On Spiritual Friendship").[12] He also wrote seven works of history, addressing three of them to Henry II of England, advising him how to be a good king and declaring him to be the true descendent of Anglo-Saxon kings.

In his later years, he is thought to have suffered from the kidney stones (hence his patronage) and arthritis.[13] Walter reports that in 1157 the Cistercian General Council allowed him to sleep and eat in Rievaulx's infirmary; later he lived in a nearby hut.

Aelred died in the winter of 1166-7, probably on 12 January 1167,[14] at Rievaulx.


For his efforts in writing and administration Aelred has been called by David Knowles the "St. Bernard of the North." Knowles, a historian of monasticism in England, also described him as "a singularly attractive figure … . No other English monk of the twelfth century so lingers in the memory."[15]

All of Aelred's works have appeared in translation, most in English, and all in French.

Extant works[16] by Aelred include:

Histories and biographies
  • Vita Davidis Scotorum regis ("Life of David, King of the Scots"), written c.1153.[17]
  • Genealogia regum Anglorum ("Genealogy of the Kings of the English"), written 1153–54.
  • Relatio de standardo ("On the Account of the Standard"), also De bello standardii ("On the Battle of the Standard"), 1153–54.
  • Vita S. Eduardi, regis et confessoris ("The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor"), 1161–63.
  • Vita S. Niniani ("The Life of Saint Ninian"), 1154–60.
  • De miraculis Hagustaldensis ecclesiae ("On the Miracles of the Church of Hexham"), ca. 1155.[18]
  • De quodam miraculo miraculi ("A Certain Wonderful Miracle") (also wrongly known since the seventeenth century as De sanctimoniali de Wattun ("The Nun of Watton")), c.1160
Spiritual treatises
  • Speculum caritatis ("The Mirror of Charity"), ca. 1142.
  • De Iesu puero duodenni ("Jesus as a Boy of Twelve"), 1160-62.
  • De spiritali amicitia ("Spiritual Friendship"), 1164-67.
  • De institutione inclusarum ("The Formation of Anchoresses"), 1160–62.
  • Oratio pastoralis ("Pastoral Prayer"), c.1163–67.
  • De anima ("On the Soul"), c.1164-67.


  • These sermons mainly relate to the fifteen liturgical days on which Cistercian abbots were required to preach to their community.
  • Several non-liturgical sermons survive as well, including one he apparently preached to the clerical synod at Troyes, presumably in connection with a journey to the general chapter at Citeaux, and one devoted to Saint Katherine of Alexandria.
  • In 1163-4 he also wrote a 31 sermon commentary on Isaiah 13-16, Homeliae de oneribus propheticis Isaiae ('Homilies on the Prophetic Burdens of Isaiah"), dedicating the work to Gilbert Foliot, who became Bishop of London in 1163.[19]

Later reputation

Aelred was never formally canonised, but became the centre of a cult in the north of England which was recognised officially by the Cistercians in 1476.[20] As such, he was venerated as a saint, with his body kept at Rievaulx. In the sixteenth century, before the dissolution of the monastery, John Leland saw Aelred's shrine at Rievaulx containing Aelred's body glittering with gold and silver.[21] Today, he is listed for January 12, the traditional date of his death, in the Roman Martyrology and the calendars of various churches.

Much of Aelred's biography is known because of the Life written about him by Walter Daniel shortly after his death.

Until the twentieth century, Aelred was generally known as a historian rather than as a spiritual writer; for many centuries his most famous work was his Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor.


A high school named after St. Aelred (the more modern spelling of his name) in Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside in the United Kingdom closed in 2011, and there is a primary school in York. Formerly there was also a high school on Gleniffer Road in Glenburn, Paisley, named after St Aelred.

Issues of sexuality

Aelred's work, private letters, and his Life by Walter Daniel, another twelfth-century monk of Rievaulx, have led historians, such as John Boswell of Yale University and Brian Patrick McGuire of Roskilde University in Denmark, to suggest that he was homosexual.[22] All of his works, nevertheless, encourage virginity among the unmarried and chastity in marriage and widowhood and warn against any sexual activity outside of marriage; in all his works in later life he treats of extra-marital sexual relationships as forbidden and condemns "unnatural relations" as a rejection of charity and the law of God. He criticized the absence of pastoral care for a young nun who experienced rape, pregnancy, beating, and a miraculous delivery in the Gilbertine community of Watton.

Several gay-friendly organizations have adopted Aelred as their patron saint, such as Integrity[23] in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, National Anglican Catholic Church in the northeast United States, and the Order of St. Aelred.[24]



  • Boswell, John, Christianity, Social Tolerance, and Homosexuality: Gay People in Western Europe from the Beginning of the Christian Era to the Fourteenth Century. University of Chicago Press, 1980.
  • Sommerfeldt, John R., Pursuing Perfect Happiness. Mahwah, NJ: Newman Press, 2005.

Primary sources

Critical editions

  • Aelred of Rievaulx, '"Opera." Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 1, 2A, 2B, 2D. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 1971, 1983, 2001, 2005.


  • Walter Daniel, Vita Ailredi Abbatis Rievall. Ed. and transl. Maurice Powicke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950). [Translation reprinted with a new introduction as: The Life of Aelred of Rievaulx, And the Letter to Maurice. Translated by FM Powicke and Jane Patricia Freeland; Introduction by Marsha Dutton. Cistercian Fathers series no. 57, (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1994.)]
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, Treatises and Pastoral Prayer, Cistercian Fathers series 2 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1971). [includes De Institutione inclusarum]
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, Dialogue on the Soul, trans. C. H. Talbot, Cistercian Father series 22 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1981).
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, Vita Niniani, translated by Winifred MacQueen, in John MacQueen, St. Nynia, (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990) [reprinted as (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2005)]
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, Mirror of Charity, trans. Elizabeth Connor, Cistercian Fathers series 17 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1990).
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, The life of Saint Edward, king and confessor, translated by Jerome Bertram, (Guildford: St. Edward's Press, 1990) [reprinted at Southampton: Saint Austin Press, 1997]
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, The Liturgical Sermons I: The First Clairvaux Collection, Advent—All Saints, Translated by Theodore Berkeley . Sermons 1-28, Advent - All Saints. Cistercian Fathers series no. 58, (Kalamazoo : Cistercian Publications, 2001.)
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, A letter to my sister, translated from the Latin and Middle English versions and edited by Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker, (London: Saint Austin Press, 2001) [first published 1957]
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, On Jesus at twelve years old, translated from the Latin by Geoffrey Wren and Adrian Walker, (London: Saint Austin Press, 2001)
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, The Historical Works, trans. Jane Patricia Freeland, ed. Marsha L. Dutton, Cistercian Fathers series 56 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2005).
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, The Lives of the Northern Saints, trans. Jane Patricia Freeland, ed. Marsha L. Dutton, Cistercian Fathers series 71 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2006).
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, For Your Own People: Aelred of Rievaulx's Pastoral Prayer, trans. Mark Del Cogliano, crit. ed. Marsha L. Dutton, Cistercian Fathers series 73 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2008). [Translation of Oratio Pastoralis]
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, trans. Lawarence Braceland, ed. Marsha L. Dutton, Cistercian Fathers series 5 (Collegeville: Cistercian Publications, 2010).

Further reading

  • Boquet, Damien, L'ordre de l'affect au Moyen Âge: Autour de l'anthropologie affective d'Aelred de Rievaulx. Caen: CRAHM, 2005.
  • Christensen, Katherine, "Walter Daniel's Life of Aelred of Rievaulx: The Heroism of Intelligence and the Miracle of Love," in Jason Glenn (ed), The Middle Ages in Texts and Texture: Reflections on Medieval Sources (Toronto, University of Toronto, 2012),
  • Dutton, Marsha L.,"Friendship and the Love of God: Augustine's Teaching in the Confessions and Aelred of Rievaulx's Response in Spiritual Friendship", in American Benedictine Review 56 (2005), p. 3-40.
  • Dutton, Marsha L., "Sancto Dunstano Cooperante: Aelred of Rievaulx’s Advice to the Heir to the English Throne in Genealogy of the Kings of the English", in: Emilia Jamroziak and Janet Burton (ed.), Religious and Laity in Northern Europe 1000-1400: Interaction, Negotiation, and Power. Turnhout: Brepols, 2007, p. 183–195.
  • Dutton, Marsha L., "A Historian's Historian: The Place of Bede in Aelred's Contributions to the New History of his Age", in: Marsha L. Dutton, Daniel M. La Corte, and Paul Lockey (ed.), Truth as Gift: Studies in Cistercian History in Honor of John R. Sommerfeldt" (Cistercian Studies Series 204). Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 2004, p. 407–48.
  • Freeman, Elizabeth, "Aelred of Rievaulx’s De Bello Standardii: Cistercian Historiography and the Creation of Community Memories," in: Cîteaux 49 (1998), p. 5–28.
  • Freeman, Elizabeth, "The Many Functions of Cistercian Histories Using Aelred of Rievaulx’s Relatio de Standardo as a Case Study," in: Erik Kooper (ed.) The Medieval Chronicle: Proceedings of the 1st International Conference on the Medieval Chronicle. Amsterdam, Atlanta: Rodopi, 1999, p. 124–32.
  • Freeman, Elizabeth, Narratives of a New Order: Cistercian Historical Writing in England, 1150–1220. Turnhout: Brepols, 2002.
  • Freeman, Elizabeth, "Nuns in the Public Sphere: Aelred of Rievaulx's De Sanctimoniali de Wattun and the Gendering of Authority", in: Comitatus 17 (1996), p. 55–80.
  • Garrison, John, “One Mind, One Heart, One Purse: Integrating Friendship Traditions and the Case of Troilus and Criseyde,” in Medievalia et Humanistica 36 (2010), p. 25-48.
  • La Corte, Daniel M., "Abbot as Magister and Pater in the Thought of Bernard of Clairvaux and Aelred of Rievaulx", in: Marsha L. Dutton, Daniel M. La Corte, and Paul Lockey (ed.), Truth as Gift: Studies in Cistercian History in Honor of John R. Sommerfeldt" (Cistercian Studies Series 204). Kalamazoo: Cistercian, 2004, p. 389–406.
  • Mayeski, Marie Anne, "Secundam naturam: The Inheritance of Virtue in Ælred’s Genealogy of the English Kings", in: Cistercian Studies Quarterly 37 (2002), p. 221–28.
  • Nouzille, Philippe, Expérience de Dieu et Théologie Monastique au XIIe Siècle: Étude sur les sermons d'Aelred de Rievaulx. Paris: Les Éditions du Cerf, 1999.
  • Powicke, Frederick M., "Ailred of Rievaulx", in Ways of Medieval Life and Thought. London, 1949.
  • Raciti, Gaetano. "The Preferential Option for the Weak in the Ælredian Community Model", CSQ 32 (1997), p. 3–23.
  • Ransford, Rosalind, "A Kind of Noah's Ark: Aelred of Rievaulx and National Identity", Stuart Mews (ed.), Studies in Church History 18 (1982), p. 137–46.
  • Sommerfeldt, John R., Aelred of Rievaulx On Love and Order in the World and the Church, (Mahwah, NJ: Newman Press, 2006).
  • Squire, Aelred, "Aelred and King David", Collectanea Cisterciensia 22 (1960), p. 356–77.
  • Squire, Aelred, "Aelred and the Northern Saints.", Collectanea Cisterciensia 23 (1961), p. 58–69.
  • Squire, Aelred, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study, Cistercian Studies 50, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1969).
  • Squire, Aelred, "Historical Factors in the Formation of Aelred of Rievaulx", Collectanea Cisterciensia 22 (1960), p. 262–82.
  • Yohe, Katherine, "Aelred’s Recrafting of the Life of Edward the Confessor", CSQ 38 (2003), pp.177–89.

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