St. Aelred of Rievaulx

St. Aelred is most well known for his writing, especially the book that introduced me to him, On Spiritual Friendship. Beyond his spiritual writings, Aelred was also a historian and an advisor to kings and religious alike.

Lifetime: 1110 to 1167
Region: Rievaulx, England
Patronages: Bladder and kidney disease; Spiritual friendship
Iconograpy: Book or long scroll; White Cistercian habit
Feast Day: January 12

Aelred was the son of a married priest and spent part of his upbringing in the court of King David I of Scotland. By age 24, Aelred had advanced to the Master of the Household, a position that allowed him to advise the king. He would later go on to write the king’s biography, and even as a monk his influence on royalty would remain. Three of the history books he wrote during his time in the monastery were addressed to King Henry II of England and advised him on how to be a good king. He even helped the king to decide to support the elected pope rather than the antipope during a schism.

Aelred discerned a call to monastic life, pulling him away from his courtly life. He joined the Cistercian community at Rievaulx, where his skills at advising continued to serve him well. As he advanced in the monastery, he became a diplomat and ambassador. He visited Scotland and Rome on some such duties, and was eventually appointed abbot of a daughter house of Rievaulx Abbey. Several years later, he was elected abbot of Rievaulx Abbey itself. While he was the abbot, the abbey thrived, and he served in that role until his death.

Aelred meditated a lot as a monk, on a variety of topics. His experience in the court made him an excellent historian and he wrote seven history books in his life. He also wrote six books about spiritual topics, including one that St. Bernard of Clairvaux asked him to write about charity. Aelred’s most-known work today is called On Spiritual Friendship, and marries together classical ideas about friendship with spirituality, and is influenced by Cicero and St. Augustine both. In this book, Aelred reveals the depth of friendship he has achieved with some of his fellow monks, and emphasizes the importance of having Christ at the center of such friendships.

Aelred eventually developed kidney stones and arthritis, and though he continued to serve as abbot of the monastery, he had to sleep and eat in the infirmary, and later in a building built just for him. He died at the age of 57.

Prayer for the Supply of Temporal Needs
By St. Aelred of Rievaulx

Lord, as Thou shalt see fit,
provide Thy servants also with those temporal goods,
whereby the weakness of this wretched body is in this life sustained.
This one thing only do I crave, my Lord,
from Thy sweet pity:
namely, that whether it be much or little that Thou givest,
Thou wouldst make me, Thy servant, a good and faithful steward
in respect of all,
a wise and fair distributor,
a sensible provider.
Inspire them, too, my God, to bear it patiently
when Thou withholdest things;
and, when Thou dost bestow, to use Thy gifts
with temperance and restraint.
Inspire them, O Lord, also to have of me,
who am Thy servant, and their servant for Thy sake,
such an opinion as may profit them,
such love and fear of me
as Thou, Lord, seest to be good for them.

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