On this day: Friendship

by Gerelyn Hollingsworth

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On this day in 1167, Aelred of Rievaulx died. His feast is observed by the Roman Catholic Church and by the Anglican Communion.

"Walter Daniel, a monk of the Yorkshire abbey, who himself tended Aelred and cradled his head in his final hours," recounted "how the day before his death Aelred was unable to speak but nonetheless listened intently to the brother who read to him the story of the Lord's Passion. . . . Walter explains that shortly before his death Aelred, who had not spoken for two days, turned to look up at the wooden cross and recited the words of Luke 23.46: 'You are my God and Lord, my refuge and Saviour. Into your hands I commend my spirit.'"

-- Life in the Medieval Cloister, by Julie Kerr.

"Aelred was born in 1110 in Hexham in Northumberland near the border with Scotland. He was the son of Eilaf, a married priest, who came from a long line of priestly ancestors."

--Spiritual Friendship: The Classic Text with a Spiritual Commentary, by Dennis J. Billy, C.Ss.R.

Aelred attended school at Durham, where his grandfather's priestly charge had been the shrine of St. Cuthbert. "At the age of fourteen or fifteen, he was sent to the court of King David I of Scotland to further his education as a member of the nobility. . . . Although Aelred was successful and popular at the king's court, he appears to have been unhappy with his life of luxury. . . . In 1134, while on his return from a mission to the archbishop of York, Aelred had occasion to visit the newly established Cistercian monastery of Rievaulx. . . . Aelred was so impressed with what he saw that within two days he found himself again at the monastery gate seeking admission."


"He was very much a person of his age, which was referred to as the Age of Friendship. It was also the period of history when troubadours toured the countryside singing love songs, and the courts were full of the culture of love. Those who entered the monasteries brought the language of courtly love with them, transposing and transforming it into a Christian spirituality of love."

--"Aelred of Rievaulx: On Spiritual Friendship", by Patricia Carroll, OCSO.

Aelred would be novice master and eventually the third abbot of Rievaulx. Under his rule the abbey flourished. He would write books, including his beautiful treatise on spiritual friendship.

"What happiness, what security, what joy to have someone to whom you dare to speak on terms of equality as to another self; one to whom you need have no fear to confess your failings; one to whom you can unblushingly make known progress you have made in the spiritual life; one to whom you can entrust all the secrets of your heart and before whom you can place all your plans!"


In spite of years of intense suffering from kidney stones, Abbot Aelred continued to travel for the Order and for the Church as long as he could. At the age of fifty-seven, he died.

Click here to see an icon of St. Aelred by Br. Robert Lentz, OFM.

Click here for books by and about Aelred of Rievaulx from Cistercian Publications.

Click here to see pictures of the ruins of Rievaulx Abbey in the Rye Valley of North Yorkshire.

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