Saint of the Day – 12 January – St Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167) Cistercian Monk, Abbot, Writer, Spiritual director, Poet, Preacher, Historian, Advisor and peacemaker. He is called “Saint Bernard of the North”. St Aelred was born in 1110 at Hexham, England and he died on 12 January 1167 at Rievaulx Abbey, Yorkshire, England of kidney disease. He was buried in the Rievaulx Chapter House. In 1191 his relics were translated to the abbey church and enshrined behind the high altar. Patronage – kidney stone sufferers. Attributes – monk holding a book or scroll.
St Aelred was the son of Eilaf, a priest during a period when English priests were allowed to marry and keeper of the shrine of Hexham. He was the Master of the household of the court of King David of Scotland and was known for his gentle spirituality and his personal austerity amid the court life. King David wanted to make his friend a bishop, but instead Aelred left Scotland in 1134 to become a Cistercian monk at Rievaulx, Yorkshire, England.
Their he became the Master of novices and later the first abbot of a Cistercian monastery in Revensby, Lincolnshire, England in 1142.
He returned to Rievaulx to become the Abbot in 1147, which made him the superior of all Cistercians in England and kept him much on the road, travelling from house to house, preaching throughout England and Scotland. He acted as peacemaker among the Picts in Galway, ending disputes and revitalising the faith in the area. He composed sermons and prayers, wrote works on the spiritual and aescetic life, wrote on the lives of King David of Scotland, Saint Ninian and Saint Edward the Confessor and was considered a living saint by those who knew him.
O God, who gave the blessed Abbot Aelred the grace of being all things to all men, grant that, following his example, we may so spend ourselves in the service of one another, as to preserve the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.
As the author of Spiritual Friendship, Saint Aelred’s Pastoral Prayer is a profound meditation on the Rule of Saint Benedict which shaped his thinking and led him (and his disciples) to prefer nothing to the love of Christ.
So, with today’s liturgical memorial of Saint Aelred celebrated especially by Benedictines and Cistercians, the Church’s memory of the life and teaching of Saint Aelred of Rievaulx, ought to open for us a renewed interest in friendship with Christ and with one another, as well as a more sincere devotion to the Cross. It is the Cross that shapes the life of the Christian and more poignantly, that of the person professing monastic vows as a monk, nun or the oblate promise. In his well-known treatise, Spiritual Friendship, Saint Aelred has a well-known and bold teaching: “God is friendship.” This is clearly an understanding of Saint John’s theology, “God is love.” God is friendship is Saint Aelred’s personal experience of God’s intimacy with him.
Aelred was never formally canonised in the manner that was later established but he became the centre of a cult in the north of England that was officially recognised by Cistercians in 1476. 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, claims he saw Aelred’s shrine at Rievaulx containing Aelred’s body glittering with gold and silver. Today, Aelred of Rievaulx is listed as a saint on 12 January, the traditional date of his death, in the latest official edition of the Roman Martyrology, which expresses the official position of the Roman Catholic Church.
From 1147 to 1167, Aelred governed 150 choir monks and 500 lay brothers at the Cistercian abbey at Rievaulx. He ruled firmly but with kindness. In two decades he did not dismiss even one person from the monastery. Although constantly suffering from kidney stones, Aelred visited many other abbeys, extending his gentle influence throughout western monasticism. Encouraged by St Bernard of Clairvaux, he wrote numerous books, including The Mirror of Charity and On Spiritual Friendship. For the last four years of his life, illness confined him to a cell attached to the abbey where small groups of monks daily sought his counsel. He died on January 12, 1167.
• A Certain Wonderful Miracle
• Genealogy of the Kings of the English
• Jesus as a Boy of Twelve
• Lament for the Death of King David of Scotland
• Mirror of Charity
• On Spiritual Friendship
• On the Saints of Hexham
• On the Soul
• Pastoral Prayer
• Relatio de Standardo
• Rule of Life for a Recluse • The Life of Saint Ninian
• The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor