St Aelred of Rievaulx (1110-1167)

St Aelred of Rievaulx (1109-1167)

Aelred was born about 1109 into a family living in the North of England. A remarkably gifted child, he was brought up at the court of Scotland with the king’s son. His nature was to love others, and to receive love. When he realized that there is nothing preferable to the love of Christ, he entered the monastery at Rievaulx, in 1135. From that time on, nothing that was not seasoned with the salt of the Holy Scriptures could in any way claim his affection.

Saint Aelred, “Doctor of charity and friendship”

Displaying great gentleness towards his brother monks, he surpassed them all in virtue. In 1143, he was sent to be abbot at the Rievaulx foundation at Revesby, near Lincoln. Four years later, the Rievaulx community elected him abbot. Above all other, Aelred wanted his own community to be especially glorious as a dwelling-place of charity and peace. He was to speak with astonishing grace of this virtue, so dear to his heart, in the treatises that he left us. The “Mirror of Charity” and more especially the “Treatise on spiritual friendship” have made Aelred the “Doctor of charity” and especially “of human friendship”, that opens the path to God.


During the last ten years of his life, Aelred suffered from violent stomach pains. Often, weighed down by his suffering, he would lie in a cabin where the monks would come to console him; twenty or thirty a day would sit and converse with him about the spiritual pleasures of the Holy Scriptures and the Order’s practices of observance. At his death, on January 12, 1167, a justifiably beautiful eulogy was pronounced that, “since he had taken the cloth, he had never allowed the sun to set on a mind clouded with impatience”. Aelred was among what is sometimes called that “first generation” of spiritual Cistercian authors that include Bernard of Clervaux, Blessed William of St Thierry and Blessed Guerric of Igny.    

The Virgin Mary is especially present in the themes of Aelred’s writings

Here are some of the great Marian themes that Aelred discusses:

  • Christ the bridegroom ”has united the soul of the Most Holy Virgin with his own divinity” [1]
  • The beauty of Mary [2]
  • The Assumption [3]
  • Meditation and spiritual motherhood [4]
  • A prayer to Mary the Queen [5]
  • The first fruits of the Rosary prayer [6]
  • And, lastly a text full of flavor on Jesus being lost and found again in the temple [7]



[1] In Annuntiatione, sermo IX 15-16, PL 195,254

[2] Sermo in Annuntiation, PL 195,253 D -254 A

[3] Sermo in Assumptione, Talbot, 162.

[4] Sermo in Annuntiatione Dominica, Talbot, 80

[5] Sermo in Assumptione, Talbot, 165

[6] Sermo in Assumptione, PL 195,315 B

[7] Sermo in Assumptione, Talbot 162