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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic

Rievaulx under Abbot Aelred (1147-1167)


He turned the house of Rievaulx into a stronghold
for the sustaining of the weak, the nourishment of
the strong and whole; it was the home of piety and
peace, the abode of perfect love of God and neighbour.

[Walter Daniel, Life of Aelred (1)]

Aelred, the former steward of King David of Scotland, entered Rievaulx as a monk in 1134, during William’s abbacy. He soon rose to prominence within the community officiating as novice-master and representing the abbey on an embassy to the papal curia in 1141/2, to voice the Cistercians’ opposition to the appointment of William Fitzherbert as archbishop of York. In 1143 Aelred was sent to lead Rievaulx’s new daughter-house at Revesby, Lincolnshire, but was recalled four years later to lead the monks of Rievaulx, following the departure of Abbot Maurice (1145-7). Aelred presided over Rievaulx for twenty years, a period which was to be a high-point in Rievaulx’s history. This was also the heyday of the Order – in fact, 1147, the year that Aelred succeeded to the abbacy at Rievaulx, was something of a ‘Golden Year’ for the Cistercians.

The Rievaulx chapter-house
© Stuart Harrison
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The Rievaulx chapter-house

Rievaulx flourished under the dynamic leadership of Abbot Aelred, who soon became a prominent figure in public affairs and the most renowned religious person in the country. As the pre-eminent theologian in England, Aelred was sometimes referred to as the ‘Bernard of the North’. He was renowned as a preacher and may even have given the sermon at Westminster Abbey in October 1163, at the translation of the relics of the recently-canonised Edward the Confessor. A friend and counsellor to royalty and ecclesiastics, Aelred was sent to arbitrate, to advise and to negotiate peace. In 1149/52, for example, he was amongst those appointed to resolve a conflict between Prior Roger and Archdeacon Wazo over seniority at Durham; (2) in 1151 Aelred was sent to negotiate peace between the young prince, Malcolm of Scotland, and the rebel clansmen; in the 1160s he was asked to investigate the authenticity of a reported miracle at the Gilbertine nunnery of Watton.(3)

A frog in the throat
On one occasion when Aelred was returning from a visit to Scotland he encountered a man who had swallowed a frog.
Read more

Aelred also secured good relations with other religious. Indeed, it was at his request that Reginald of Durham wrote a biography of the twelfth century hermit, Godric of Finchale, who had been a good friend of Aelred’s.(4)

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