St. Aelred of Rievaulx (1109-1167)

Artist: 
Br. Robert Lentz, OFM

Artist's Narrative:
Aelred lived in northern Britain at the time when Norman cultural values were displacing more ancient Celtic ways. He was himself most likely a Celt, and was the son of a married priest. As a young man he was taken into the service of King David of Scotland. Intimate male friendship was common in old Celtic culture and Aelred became the closest of friends with the King’s son and stepsons.

At 24 he left the court and became a monk at the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx. The Cistercians were reformers of western Christian monasticism, who stressed simplicity and the contemplative life. Their order was newly founded when Aelred joined and he is counted as one of the first Cistercian mystical theologians.

Aelred was abbot of Rievaulx by the time he was 38 years old. The abbey swelled to 600 monks, largely because of his reputation as a wise and gentle leader. According to a biographer of his time, "He did not treat them with the pedantic imbecility habitual in some silly abbots who, if a monk takes a brother's’ hand in his own or says something they do not like, demand his cowl, strip and expel him." Aelred encouraged his monks to be friends and was himself a close friend to a monk named Simon. When Aelred lay dying, monks sat all over his bed and "talked with him," says his biographer, "as a little child prattles with it’s mother." Although Latin was the common language for monastic prayer, with his last breath he called on God to hasten, "for Crist Luve."

Aelred has been called the patron saint of friendship. He wrote a treatise called Spiritual Friendship, in which he says, "...what is true of charity I surely do not hesitate to grant friendship, since he that abides in friendship abides in God, and God in him."

His feast day is January 12.

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