Article

Aelred of Rievaulx

Marsha L. Dutton

in Medieval Studies

ISBN: 9780195396584
Published online April 2013 | | DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1093/obo/9780195396584-0179
Aelred of Rievaulx

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  • Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500)
  • Literary Studies (Early and Medieval)
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The most prominent of the Cistercian abbots of 12th-century England, Aelred of Rievaulx (b. 1110–d. 1167), also spelled Ailred or Æthelred, was a popular preacher and a prolific writer, leading the monks of his monastery and overseeing five daughter houses while offering guidance to the great men of his time and traveling and preaching in England and France. He is one of the most studied 12th-century Cistercians, remembered through his own works and from his influence on later writers. One of three sons and perhaps at least one daughter born to the wife of a priest of Saint Andrew’s Church in Hexham (Northumbria) and descended from generations of Anglo-Saxon priests, Aelred might well have followed the family tradition and become a married parish priest. But by the time he was born in 1110, the Church, increasingly shaped by the forces of Gregorian Reform, required sons of priests to take vows of celibacy as monks or canons before being admitted to holy orders. After some years of education, perhaps at Hexham or at Durham, where his great-grandfather and grandfather had been members of the cathedral chapter, Aelred spent ten years at the court of King David I of Scotland, serving David as dapifer or steward, presumably discerning whether he was called to a life at court or in religion. In 1134, apparently with David’s blessing, he left the court to become a monk at the new Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx, founded in Yorkshire in 1132 by monks from the French abbey of Clairvaux. The skills Aelred had gained from his service at court had prepared him well for responsibilities not usually assigned to young monks. In 1141 when William FitzHerbert, a relative of King Stephen, ascended to the see of York, Aelred represented the abbot of Rievaulx in a group of prelates traveling to Rome to appeal the appointment, bearing with them a letter from Bernard of Clairvaux. After they returned to England, Aelred became master of novices at Rievaulx; soon afterward, in 1142, he was named the founding abbot of Rievaulx’s second daughter house, St. Laurence of Revesby, named for the saint to whom the church on the site was dedicated. In 1147, the monks of Rievaulx elected Aelred their abbot. Over the next twenty years, a deep bond apparently developed between him and his community. Aelred frequently portrayed himself in his works as a teacher and a loving father, and Walter Daniel, author of the Vita Ailredi, confirmed that self-portrait. When Aelred died on 12 January 1167 (now his feast day), his community buried him in the Rievaulx chapter house next to William, their first abbot.

Article.  12970 words. 

Subjects: Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500) ; Literary Studies (Early and Medieval) ; Medieval and Renaissance Philosophy ; Byzantine and Medieval Art (500 CE to 1400) ; Anglo-Saxon and Medieval Archaeology

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