pastoral prayer

Ailred of Rievaulx

Ailred (or Aelred), Abbot of Rievaulx (1110-12 January 1167), was an English Christian saint and writer.


Aelred was born in Hexham, Northumbria, in 1110. His father, a married priest, sent him to spend several years at the court of King David I of Scotland. Aelred rose to be Master of the Household before leaving the court to enter a Cistercian monastery at Rievaulx Abbey, in Yorkshire, around the year 1134.

He became the abbot of a new house of his order at Revesby in Lincolnshire, and later, abbot of Rievaulx itself in 1147. He would spend the remainder of his life in the monastery. Under his administration the size of the abbey rose to some six hundred monks. He also made annual visits to several other Cistercian houses in England and Scotland, with other visits to places as far as Citeaux and Clairvaux. These visits may have compromised his health, for he is recorded as suffering from a very painful, unspecified disease in his later years.

He wrote several influential books on spirituality, among them The Mirror of Charity (perhaps at the request of Bernard, Abbot of Clairvaux) and Spiritual Friendship. He also wrote seven works of history, addressing two 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. Until the twentieth century Aelred was generally known as a historian rather than a spiritual writer; for many centuries his most famous work was his "Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor."

Ailred died on January 12, 1167, at Rievaulx. He is listed for January 12 in the Roman Martyrology and the calendars of various other churches.


For his efforts in writing and administration he has been called by David Knowles the "St. Bernard of the north". He has also been described by David Knowles, a historian of monasticism in England, as "a singularly attractive figure... No other English monk of the twelfth century so lingers in the memory.

All of Aelred's works have appeared in translation, most in English, but all in French. They include Mirror of Charity, Spiritual Friendship, Rule of Life for a Recluse, Jesus as a Boy of Twelve, Pastoral Prayer, On the Soul, Genealogy of the Kings of the English, Battle of the Standard, Lament for the Death of King David of Scotland, The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor, The Life of Saint Ninian, On the Saints of Hexham, and A Certain Wonderful Miracle, as well as many sermons.


Ailred's works, private letters and his Life by Walter Daniel, another twelfth-century monk of Rievaulx, have led some scholars to infer from that he was homosexual. In De institutione inclusarum, he writes "While I was still a schoolboy, the charm of my friends greatly captivated me, so that among the foibles and failings with which that age is fraught, my mind surrendered itself completely to emotion and devoted itself to love. Nothing seemed sweeter or nicer or more worthwhile than to love and be loved." In writing to an anchoress in "Rule of Life as a Recluse, Aelred speaks of this as the time when she held on to her virtue and he lost his.

Several of his works, however, encourage virginity among the unmarried and chastity (not abstinence) in marriage and widowhood and warn against any sexual activity outside of marriage; in all his works he treats same-sex and opposite-sex attraction as equally possible and equally dangerous to one's oath to celibacy. At the same time, he was compassionate about human failings, criticised the absence of pastoral care for the Nun of Watton and her pregnancy while within a Gilbertine convent.


There is a high school named after St. Aelred in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire in the United Kingdom, and also a primary school in York.

Several homosexual-friendly organisations have adopted Ailred as their patron saint, such as Integrity 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 in the Philippines.




  • Aelred of Rievaulx, "Opera." Corpus Christianorum Continuatio Mediaevalis 2, 2A, 2B. Turnhout, Belgium: Brepols Publishers, 1971, 1983, 2001.
  • Spiritual Friendship The Classic Text with a Spiritual Commentary by Dennis Billy, C.Ss.R.

Secondary literature

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