Aelred of Rievaulx

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Saint Aelred of Rievaulx
De Speculo Caritatis.jpeg
Born 1110
Hexham, Northumberland, England
Died 12 January 1167(1167-01-12)
Rievaulx, Yorkshire, England
Venerated 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.


The ruins of Rievaulx Abbey on the River Rye in North Yorkshire

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 another 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 required 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, Aelred had to make the long sea journey to the annual general chapter of the Order at Cîteaux.[9]

Alongside his role as a monk and later 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 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 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.


Aelred's Life of Edward the Confessor, late 12th century illuminated manuscript, British Library

For his efforts in writing and administration Aelred was 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," saying that "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") (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 spirituali amicitiâ ("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 seventeen 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 Cîteaux, 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 12 January, 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; a primary school in York is named for him. Formerly there was also a high school on Gleniffer Road in Glenburn, Paisley, named after St Aelred.


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 criticised 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 organisations 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]


  1. Thurston, Herbert. "St. Ælred." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 20 September 2012 [1]
  2. Bell, "Ailred of Rievaulx (1110–1167)"
  3. It is unclear exactly when Aelred joined King David's court. However, David became king in 1124, when Aelred was 14, and in his lament for David Aelred says he had known David "from the beginning of his age", which might well imply that Aelred had been at the court from around 1124. See Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study, (London: SPCK, 1969), p12.
  4. See Walter Daniel, Vita A, ca. 2. (p91 of Cistercian Fathers translation)
  5. The Lives of the Saints, Rev. S. Baring-Gould, Volume 1, Page 178, Edinburgh: John Grant, 1914
  6. Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study, (London: SPCK, 1969), p53.
  7. Walteri Danielis Vita Ailredi Abbatis Rievall', ed. FM Powicke, (London, 1959), ca. 30.
  8. Some evidence of these journeys remains. For instance, Walter Daniel records a visitation that Aelred made to Dundrennan. Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study (London: SPCK, 1969), p65
  9. It was probably during one of these journeys that he delivered the sermon he is recorded as preaching at Troyes.
  10. Marsha L Dutton, 'Introduction', in Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, (Collegeville, MI, 2010), p16; Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study, (London: SPCK, 1969), p24.
  11. Marsha L Dutton, 'Introduction', in Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, (Collegeville, MI, 2010), p17
  12. On the use of spiritali,'" instead of spirituali, see Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, transl. by L. Braceland (2010), 25.
  13. Walter Daniel, "Vita Aelredi"
  14. This is the traditional date for his feast within the Cistercian Order, as celebrated on the authority of Walter Daniel, Vita A, ca. 57.
  15. Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, 3rd edition. New York:Penguin Books, 1995. ISBN 0-14-051312-4.
  16. Some of Aelred's works have apparently not survived, including his letters and his poetic eulogy to St Cuthbert. The Rievaulx library catalogue also lists an otherwise unknown De fasciculo frondium, and Walter Daniel notes that he composed a liturgical homily on Luke 11:33 to be read on the feast day of St Edward the Confessor; Peter Jackson has recently identified and published what he believes to be that sermon ('In translacione sancti Edwardi Confessoris: The Lost Sermon by Aelred of Rievaulx?', "Cistercian Studies Quarterly" 40 (2005): 45–82). See David N. Bell, ‘Ailred of Rievaulx (1110–1167)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 5 Aug 2013
  17. King David died on 24 May 1153.
  18. This seems to be a sermon that Aelred preached at Hexham on 3 March 1155, when the relics of five former bishops of Hexham were translated to new shrines.
  19. Marsha L Dutton, 'Introduction', in Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, (Collegeville, MI, 2010), p21-2
  20. The entry on Aelred in the 1905 New International Encyclopedia states incorrectly that Aelred was canonized in 1191 (PD-icon.svg Gilman, D. C.; Thurston, H. T.; Colby, F. M., eds. (1905). "Ailred". New International Encyclopedia (1st ed.). New York: Dodd, Mead.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>). For correct information, see David N. Bell, 'Ailred of Rievaulx (1110–1167)', Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 5 Aug 2013
  21. Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study, (London: SPCK, 1969), p2
  22. Sommerfeldt 2005, pp. 8–9; See also Boswell 1980, McGuire 1994, and Roden 2002.
  23. "Saint Aelred -the Patron Saint of Integrity". 14 January 1988. Retrieved 20 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  24. "The Order of St Aelred (O.S.Ae)". Retrieved 20 March 2013.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>


  • Bell, David N. (2004). "Ailred of Rievaulx (1110–1167)". Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Oxford University Press. Retrieved 30 January 2008.<templatestyles src="Module:Citation/CS1/styles.css"></templatestyles>
  • Burton, Pierre-André, Aelred de Rievaulx (1110–1167): De l'homme éclaté à l'être unifié. Essai de biographie existentielle et spirituelle. Paris: Éditions du Cerf, 2010.
  • Sommerfeldt, John R., "Aelred of Rievaulx:Pursuing Perfect Happiness. Mahwah, NJ: Newman Press, 2005.

Primary sources

Critical editions

  • Aelred of Rievaulx, '"Opera omnia." Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 1, 2A, 2B, 2C, 2D, 3. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 1971, 1989, 2001, 2012, 2005, 2015.
  • 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].


  • 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, On Jesus at Twelve Years Old, trans. Geoffrey Webb and Adrian Walker, Fleur de Lys series 17 (London; A. R. Mobray and Co., Ltd., 1955).
  • 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, Spiritual Friendship, trans. Mark F. Williams (London: University of Scranton Press, 1994).
  • Aelred of Rievaulx, The Liturgical Sermons I: The First Clairvaux Collection, Advent—All Saints, translated by Theodore Berkeley and M. Basil Pennington . Sermons 1–28, Advent – All Saints. Cistercian Fathers series no. 58, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 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, Spiritual Friendship, trans. Lawrence Braceland, ed. Marsha L. Dutton, Cistercian Fathers series 5 (Collegeville: Cistercian Publications, 2010).
  • (fr.) Aelred de Rievaulx, Sermons. La collection de Reading (sermons 85-182), trans. G. de Briey(+), G. Raciti, intro. X. Morales, Corpus Christianorum in Translation 20 (Turnhout: Brepols Publishers, 2015)


Burton, Pierre-André. Bibliotheca Aelrediana Secunda: Une Bibliographie Cumulative (1962[-]1996)." Fédération Internationale des Instituts d'Études Médiévales. Textes et Études du Moyen Âge, 7. Louvain-la-Neuve (France), 1997. Dutton, Marsha L. "Aelred of Rievaulx." Oxford Bibliographies in Medieval Studies. New York, 2013. Hoste, Anselm. "Bibliotheca Aelrediana: Survey of Manuscripts, Old Catalogues, Editions and Studies concerning St. Aelred of Rievaulx." Steenbrugge, 1962.

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., "A Model for Friendship: Ambrose's Contribution to Aelred of Rievaulx's Spiritual Friendship,'' The American Benedictine Review 64 (2013): 39–66.
  • 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.
  • 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.
  • 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): 177–89.