January 12: Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167

Welcome to the Holy Women, Holy Men blog! We invite you to read about this commemoration, use the collect and lessons in prayer, whether individually or in corporate worship, then tell us what you think. For more information about this project, click here.


About this Commemoration

Aelred was born in 1109, of a family which had long been treasurers of the shrine of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne at Durham Cathedral. While still a youth, he was sent for education in upper-class life to the court of King David of Scotland, son of Queen Margaret. The King’s stepsons Simon and Waldef were his models and intimate friends. After intense disillusion and inner struggle, Aelred went to Yorkshire,where he became a Cistercian monk at the abbey of Rievaulx in 1133.

Aelred soon became a major figure in English church life. Sent toRome on diocesan affairs of Archbishop William of York, he returned by way of Clairvaux. Here he made a deep impression on Bernard, who encouraged the young monk to write his first work, Mirror of Charity, on Christian perfection. In 1143, Aelred led the founding of a new Cistercian house at Revesby. Four years later he was appointed abbot of Rievaulx. By the time of his death from a painful kidney disease in 1167, the abbey had over 600 monks, including Aelred’s biographer and friend, Walter Daniel. During this period, Aelred wrote his best known work, Spiritual Friendship.

Friendship, Aelred teaches, is both a gift from God and a creation of human effort. While love is universal, freely given to all, friendship is a particular love between individuals, of which the example is Jesus and John the Beloved Disciple. As abbot, Aelred allowed his monks to hold hands and give other expressions of friendship. In the spirit of Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clairvaux, Aelred writes:

There are four qualities which characterize a friend: Loyalty, right intention, discretion, and patience. Right intention seeks for nothing other than God and natural good. Discretion brings understanding of what is done on a friend’s behalf, and ability to know when to correct faults. Patience enables one to be justly rebuked, or to bear adversity on another’s behalf. Loyalty guards and protects friendship, in good or bitter times.


I Almighty God, who didst endow thy abbot Aelred with the gift of Christian friendship and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness: Grant to thy people that same spirit of mutual affection, that, in loving one another, we may know the love of Christ and rejoice in the gift of thy eternal goodness; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who liveth and reigneth with thee and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

II Almighty God, you endowed the abbot Aelred with the gift of Christian friendship and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness: Grant to your people that same spirit of mutual affection, that, in loving one another, we may know the love of Christ and rejoice in the gift of your eternal goodness; through the same Jesus Christ our Savior, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.


Ruth 1:15–18

Philippians 2:1–4

Mark 12:28–34a



Preface of  of a Saint (2)

Text from Holy, Women, Holy Men: Celebrating the Saints © 2010 by The Church Pension Fund. Used by permission.


We invite your reflections about this commemoration and its suitability for the official calendar and worship of The Episcopal Church. How did this person’s life witness to the Gospel? How does this person inspire us in Christian life today?

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27 Responses to January 12: Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167

  1. Karl Stevens says:

    This is really more of a book recommendation than a quibble with the posting. Aside from the primary texts, I found Gordon Mursell’s “English spirituality: from earliest times to 1700” useful for learning more about Aelred’s thinking, and particulary how that thinking diverges from present theology.

  2. Stacy Walker-Frontjes says:

    I’m wondering why no mention is made of Aelred being the patron saint of Integrity.

  3. This is one entry which cries out for a pronunciation guide! I have seen several possibilities for Rievaulx – rye vallis and revelo and others. Anyone know which is correct?

  4. It’s also should be noted that Aelred’s own writings clearly indicate that he was gay. Integrity USA adopted Aelred as its patron saint in 1987.

  5. Michael Hartney says:

    Collect. I don’t know. I miss the ‘clasping each the other’s hand’ of the Lesser Feasts and Fasts 06 collect and think that this new collect is weaker.

    The previous collects read:
    Pour into our hearts, O God, the Holy Spirit’s gift of love, that we, clasping each the other’s hand, may share the joy of friendship, human and divine, and with your servant Aelred draw many to your community of love; through Jesus Christ the Righteous, who lives and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

    Bio. He could use a ‘who he is’ and ‘why he is important’ statement; and a ‘He died in 1167.’ statement.

  6. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    I agree with Michael Hartney – the earlier Collect was much better. I’m glad for the quotation from his book on spiritual friendship – one of my favorites.

  7. Celinda Scott says:

    Thanks, Ken. As a French teacher, I’m happy to quote this from Wikipedia: ” Its name originated as Rye (the river) + Norman-French val or valle = “valley”. Its old local pronunciation was as “Rivers”, and changed to “Reevo” when education brought a general familiarity with the French language.” Ditto Cynthia on the quotation from the book on spiritual friendship. I had not heard it before.

  8. John LaVoe says:

    Just curious: Can anyone explain the illustration?

  9. Celinda Scott says:

    I’m wondering, too, about the illustration. The picture of Aelred holding the (scroll? banner?) is in an article about him at this site: http://www.cistercian.org/abbey/our-life/cistercian-sources.html . However, the letter U and the surrounding words aren’t at that site. –His friend Walter Daniel’s bio of him is in both Latin and English at this site: h ttp://www.cistercian.org/abbey/our-life/pdf/Aelred of Rievaulx – Life of Aelred 29.pdf

    The Latin words are perhaps abbreviations: EXPLCT for explicatus (explanation, telling, etc.) and EPLA for
    epistula (letter)? INCIPIT is in on-line Latin dictionaries as “here begins.” But I couldn’t find any hint of ERE
    SCOR VERA (unless VERA is an abbreviation for veritas). Andrea, can you help us out here?

  10. Celinda Scott says:

    http://www.cistercian.org/abbey/our-life/pdf/Aelred of Rievaulx – Life of Aelred 29.pdf

    Above is the second link again.

  11. Celinda Scott says:

    One more try. http://www.cistercian.org/abbey/our-life/pdf/Aelred%20of%20Rievaulx%20-%20Life%20of%20Aelred%2029.pdf

    That whole website (which also has the picture used by SCLM above) is called “CISTERCIAN ABBEY OUR LADY OF DALLAS.”

  12. Cynthia Gilliatt says:

    Our Lady of Dallas? Would that be the patron saint of scantily clad cheerleaders? Sorry. Some things I can resist, and others …

  13. Celinda Scott says:

    Well, I couldn’t help looking it up. I guess many cities have an image which crowds out other aspects of the place, partly thanks to TV. Anyway, the Bishop of Dallas (hence the name) invited Hungarian refugees from the Communist crackdown in the 1950s to come there to start an abbey. Their website has a lot of information about saints, and I’m wondering if that’s where SCLM got the picture we’ve been discussing. I said above that the whole Aelred graphic wasn’t on the website, but it is. –Again, Andrea B., if you can satisfy the curiosity of some of us bloggers, please do.

  14. djgrieser says:

    I’ll add a vote for the old collect. I used it at today’s Eucharist and was moved by the language; it’s much more powerful than the one in Holy Women, Holy Men.

  15. Celinda Scott says:

    More about the picture: it’s said to be the “only known picture of medieval date purporting to be of Aelred.” Pierre André Burton, a Cistercian at the Abbaye Sainte-Marie du Désert in Levignac, France (a fairly new abbey) wrote a biography of Aelred which was published in October 2010. Walter Daniel, Aelred’s secretary and good friend, wrote a hagiography of Aelred. Burton did a French translation of that in 2004, and others have done it in English. But I couldn’t find anything about the words on the picture or the significance of the letter U. It was natural for Aelrod to have gone to Scotland because Northumbria, where he was born, is close to the border. He wrote quite a bit, including political and historical commentary relating to the area he was from, especially after 1153. Perhaps that’s paper he’s holding in the picture.

    • John LaVoe says:

      I’m guessing the photo is of a typical illumination, the first word on the page, the initial of which is usually the letter so illuminated, was a U, likely a common Latin word, as in “Ubi, O ubi, est meam sub ubi?” (The main quote I remember from Latin class.)

    • Ellen M. says:

      I think the illustration might be from a ms. of Aelred’s Speculum Caritatis, which Bernard of Clairvaux urged him to write. This ms. is in Dijon, and Bernard is pictured in similar size and style on the left side, across from this depiction of Aelred on the right side, looking at each other. The textual transition we are looking at might be the ending of Bernard’s letter asking Aelred to write, and the beginning of the Aelred’s Prologue to the work.

  16. John LaVoe says:

    Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167
    This feast is a welcomed one, and I will be happy to live with it even if nothing is changed from its present makeup. Naturally, I will now suggest changes!
    While the mother-in-law and daughter-in-law story of Ruth’s loyalty illustrates a strong personal, family, religious, and nationality-encompassing bond, another passage comes to mind because of its context of YHWH taking Israel’s hand for his larger purpose: Isaiah 42:5-9 (used in Year A for the Baptism of the Lord): (6) “I am the LORD, I have called you in righteousness, I have taken you by the hand and kept you; I have given you as a covenant to the people, a light to the nations…”
    Psalm 36 is a beautiful psalm (I especially like verse 6 because in effect it says God loves animals). Psalm 139:4 also describes God’s embrace: “You press upon me behind and before and lay your hand upon me.” Usually 1-11 are used, but 1-5 could stand alone as an OT response, as well. Or, Ps 133, a mere 5 verses, including its opening, “Oh, how good and pleasant it is, when brethren live together in unity!” (Congregation can bring its own oil.) Nevertheless, Ruth is okay. Mothers-in-law of the world, unite!
    The collect. I can live with either the older or the newer collect. Neither is perfect, but both have attractions. The new one, with all the emphasis on friendship and affection, begins, “Almighty God.” That’s par for the course. “Almighty” — oh, the tenderness. On the other hand the older one prays to the Irish God, (“Pour into our hearts, O’God….”) Too bad there’s nothing in our tradition about God’s tender love for creation that could provide us with a more nuanced collect invocations. But I can live with either one, and gratefully so.
    The biography says what it needs to. I’d eliminate “in upper class life” from the first paragraph. It sounds like we’re making fun of finishing schools. Also in the first paragraph, I find an annoying gap in the sentence that begins, “After intense disillusion and inner struggle, Aelred went to Yorkshire,where he became a Cistercian monk….” Are the Cistercians known for needing disillusioned, struggling candidates? I wish you’d either omit or explain the “disillusion and inner struggle” piece, or separate it and provide some other introductory segue into his becoming a monk. As it stands, it’s like being led to a rope bridge at a deep chasm and told to cross it, only to realize it’s not connected at the other side.
    The second paragraph strikes me as excellent. The balance between the CONTENT of paragraph three, and what is EVIDENT from the extended quote (which is paragraph four) strikes me as soft ground. For one thing, I doubt that many know enough about Bernard and Anselm to make reference to them worth including at all. On top of that, I’ve always felt a coldness and foreboding strictness in what I’ve read about Bernard’s monasticism. (Martin Thornton, in his book English Spirituality, p. 46: “English spirituality follows the Cistercianism of the more thoughtful William of St Thierry and the less austere Aelred of Rievaulx, rather than that of St Bernard.”) I followed the link provided by Celinda Scott in her “Lady of Dallas” comment. (:)) There, Walter Daniel’s words about Aelred were profoundly poignant: “Hence, indeed, monks flocked to Rievaulx from foreign nations and the farthest ends of the earth, in need of brotherly mercy and compassion, and there they truly found peace and the holiness without which no one shall see God.” In my short time of monastic formation there were explicit teachings and rules about the dreaded “PF” (Particular Friendship). That emphasis was the exact opposite of Aelred’s: DON’T get especially close to ANYONE! The rationale behind the prohibition was always expressed as fostering a sense of communal equity: everybody is, and should be equally, every community member’s brother. Nothing was ever said out loud about it having an element of homophobic anxiety. There is indeed a striking contrast between the friendship-affirming Aelred, and the friendship-phobic ethos that typified monastic rules in the (RC) order I was in. Bernard and Aelred don’t strike me as being cut from the same cloth in this.
    All of which is to say, in the third paragraph, I might doctor it to say,
    “Aelred teaches that friendship is both a gift from God and a creation of human effort, of which the example is Jesus and John the Beloved Disciple. Aelred allowed his monks to hold hands and give other expressions of friendship. As Walter Daniels wrote, ‘monks flocked to Rievaulx from foreign nations and the farthest ends of the earth, in need of brotherly mercy and compassion, and there they truly found peace and the holiness without which no one shall see God.’ Aelred himself wrote: (here, the fourth paragraph shall follow just as it is now written). I would also reconsider the gospel selection in light of this material, using a passage that illustrates the beloved disciple in his closeness to the Lord.
    Nevertheless, I will enjoy this feast when it all comes out, exactly as it is now written.

  17. Celinda Scott says:

    John–sounds right about ubi. I guess we’ll never know what page was being transcribed when the first letter was illuminated with the picture of Aelred, or whether the Latin abbreviations referred to him or to the text being transcribed. –Stacy, I just skimmed through the posts again and saw yours about Integrity. I read a lot about Aelred’s being their patron saint while looking for information yesterday about Aelred. I understand about the affection and friendship. But Integrity, I think, stands for relationships which add other elements (very much present in Roman and Greek –“classic”–society as well as most others). I have the impression that not only chastity, but virginity, were valued in monastic groups in the 12th century, and Aelred saw no difficulty in valuing not only close friendships, “spiritual friendships,” but also chastity and virginity in monastic life. I don’t think we have a way of knowing what he thought about societal support for long-term, caring, monogamous same-sex physical (as well as spiritual) relationships.

    • John LaVoe says:

      I coldn’t find the main three words at the bottom of the illumination, but I did find that it’s from his Mirror of Charity book. The two at the top are “Explicit” and “Implicit” and they showed up on library listings where, it turns out, they refer to the first and last sentence of books (any books). What you said about Incipit is absolutely correct and fits with this. The way “Incipit” is next to “Prolog” (given its meaning) makes me wonder if “Explicit” (next to EPLA, perhaps for “Epilogue” in a stage of emergent spelling?) might indicate a bilinguial design, Latin and some stage of English? That’s speculative. I did also see something that indicates the scroll he holds unrolled is a “book” — not a banner or something similar.
      That’s all I can find.

  18. Philip Wainwright says:

    Good to see the commemorand being quoted, I’ve suggested several times that most bios should include some words from their subject. But much as I value friendship, I think a bio likely to be read in a Christian worship service should say something about why friendship is an aspect of the Christian faith, or at least of Christian living. I’d rather see Aelred quoted on that than on the subject of friendship itself—his words could, and no doubt have, come from people of every religion and none.

    The older collect is a bit too ‘babes in the wood’ for me, I much prefer the new one.

  19. Nigel Renton says:

    Believing that the subtitle should tell us something about why the Holy person is to be commemorated, I suggest “Theologian and Monk” would be a better subtitle: that he later became Abbot of Rievaulx will be stated in the text.

    Line 1, first paragraph: add “probably in or near Hexham, Northumberland, in Northern England” after “born”.

    Line 7, second paragraph: add “at Rievaulx Abbey” after “death”.

    Line 8, second paragraph, substitute “on January 12” for “in” after “disease”.

  20. Dale McNeill says:

    I don’t dislike the older collect, but prefer the new one.

  21. Pingback: January 12 – Aelred of Rivaulx : St. Paul's Episcopal Church

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