From 1142-3, Aelred was novice master at Rievaulx. In 1143, he became the first abbot of a new daughter house of Rievaulx at Revesby in Lincolnshire. In 1147, he was elected abbot of Rievaulx itself, a position he was to hold until his death. Under his administration, the abbey is said to have grown to some 140 monks and 500 conversi and laymen. His role also an amount of travel. Cistercian abbots were expected to make annual visitations to daughter-houses, and Rievaulx had five in England and Scotland by the time Aelred held office. Moreover, Aelred had to make the long sea journey to the annual general chapter of the Order at Cîteaux.
Alongside his role as a monk and later abbot, Aelred was involved throughout his life in political affairs. In 1138, when Rievaulx's patron, Walter Espec, was to surrender his castle at Wark to King David of Scotland, Aelred accompanied Abbot William of Rievaulx to the Scottish border to negotiate the transfer. In 1142 Aelred travelled to Rome, alongside Walter of London, Archdeacon of York, to represent before Pope Innocent II a group of northern prelates who opposed the election of King Stephen's nephew William as archbishop of York (the result of the journey was that Aelred brought back a letter from Innocent summoning the superiors that Aelred represented to appear in Rome the following March in order to make their deposition in the required canonical form; the resulting negotiations would drag on for many years). The fourteenth-century version of the Peterborough Chronicle states that Aelred's efforts during the twelfth-century papal schism brought about Henry II's decisive support for the Cistercian candidate, resulting in 1161 in the formal recognition of Pope Alexander III.
Aelred wrote several influential books on spirituality, among them Speculum caritatis ("The Mirror of Charity," reportedly written at the request of Bernard of Clairvaux) and De spiritali amicitia ("On Spiritual Friendship"). He also wrote seven works of history, addressing three 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.
In his later years, he is thought to have suffered from the kidney stones and arthritis. Walter reports that in 1157 the Cistercian General Council allowed him to sleep and eat in Rievaulx's infirmary; later he lived in a nearby hut.
Aelred died in the winter of 1166-7, probably on 12 January 1167, at Rievaulx.
For his efforts in writing and administration Aelred was called by David Knowles the "St. Bernard of the North." Knowles, a historian of monasticism in England, also described him as "a singularly attractive figure," saying that "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, and all in French.
De miraculis Hagustaldensis ecclesiae ("On the Miracles of the Church of Hexham"), ca. 1155.
De quodam miraculo miraculi ("A Certain Wonderful Miracle") (wrongly known since the seventeenth century as De sanctimoniali de Wattun ("The Nun of Watton")), c.1160
Speculum caritatis ("The Mirror of Charity"), ca. 1142.
De Iesu puero duodenni ("Jesus as a Boy of Twelve"), 1160-62.
De spiritali amicitia ("Spiritual Friendship"), 1164-67.
De institutione inclusarum ("The Formation of Anchoresses"), 1160–62.
Oratio pastoralis ("Pastoral Prayer"), c.1163–67.
De anima ("On the Soul"), c.1164-67.
These sermons mainly relate to the seventeen liturgical days on which Cistercian abbots were required to preach to their community.
Several non-liturgical sermons survive as well, including one he apparently preached to the clerical synod at Troyes, presumably in connection with a journey to the general chapter at Cîteaux, and one devoted to Saint Katherine of Alexandria.
In 1163-4 he also wrote a 31-sermon commentary on Isaiah 13-16, Homeliae de oneribus propheticis Isaiae ('Homilies on the Prophetic Burdens of Isaiah"), dedicating the work to Gilbert Foliot, who became Bishop of London in 1163.
Aelred was never formally canonized, but became the centre of a cult in the north of England which was recognized officially by the Cistercians in 1476. As such, he was venerated as a saint, with his body kept at Rievaulx. In the sixteenth century, before the dissolution of the monastery, John Leland saw Aelred's shrine at Rievaulx containing Aelred's body glittering with gold and silver. Today, he is listed for January 12, the traditional date of his death, in the Roman Martyrology and the calendars of various churches.
Much of Aelred's biography is known because of the Life written about him by Walter Daniel shortly after his death.
Until the twentieth century, Aelred was generally known as a historian rather than as a spiritual writer; for many centuries his most famous work was his Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor.
A high school named after St. Aelred (the more modern spelling of his name) in Newton-le-Willows, Merseyside, in the United Kingdom, closed in 2011; a primary school in York is named for him. Formerly there was also a high school on Gleniffer Road in Glenburn, Paisley, named after St Aelred.
Aelred's work, private letters, and his Life by Walter Daniel, another twelfth-century monk of Rievaulx, have led historians, such as John Boswell of Yale University and Brian Patrick McGuire of Roskilde University in Denmark, to suggest that he was homosexual. All of his works, nevertheless, encourage virginity among the unmarried and chastity in marriage and widowhood and warn against any sexual activity outside of marriage; in all his works in later life he treats of extra-marital sexual relationships as forbidden and condemns "unnatural relations" as a rejection of charity and the law of God. He criticized the absence of pastoral care for a young nun who experienced rape, pregnancy, beating, and a miraculous delivery in the Gilbertine community of Watton.
^It is unclear exactly when Aelred joined King David's court. However, David became king in 1124, when Aelred was 14, and in his lament for David Aelred says he had known David "from the beginning of his age", which might well imply that Aelred had been at the court from around 1124. See Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study, (London: SPCK, 1969), p12.
^See Walter Daniel, Vita A, ca. 2. (p91 of Cistercian Fathers translation)
^The Lives of the Saints, Rev. S. Baring-Gould, Volume 1, Page 178, Edinburgh: John Grant, 1914
^Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study, (London: SPCK, 1969), p53.
^Walteri Danielis Vita Ailredi Abbatis Rievall', ed. FM Powicke, (London, 1959), ca. 30.
^Some evidence of these journeys remains. For instance, Walter Daniel records a visitation that Aelred made to Dundrennan. Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study (London: SPCK, 1969), p65
^It was probably during one of these journeys that he delivered the sermon he is recorded as preaching at Troyes.
^Marsha L Dutton, 'Introduction', in Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, (Collegeville, MI, 2010), p16; Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study, (London: SPCK, 1969), p24.
^Marsha L Dutton, 'Introduction', in Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, (Collegeville, MI, 2010), p17
^On the use of spiritali,'" instead of spirituali, see Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, transl. by L. Braceland (2010), 25.
^This is the traditional date for his feast within the Cistercian Order, as celebrated on the authority of Walter Daniel, Vita A, ca. 57.
^Attwater, Donald and Catherine Rachel John. The Penguin Dictionary of Saints, 3rd edition. New York:Penguin Books, 1995. ISBN 0-14-051312-4.
^Some of Aelred's works have apparently not survived, including his letters and his poetic eulogy to St Cuthbert. The Rievaulx library catalogue also lists an otherwise unknown De fasciculo frondium, and Walter Daniel notes that he composed a liturgical homily on Luke 11:33 to be read on the feast day of St Edward the Confessor; Peter Jackson has recently identified and published what he believes to be that sermon ('In translacione sancti Edwardi Confessoris: The Lost Sermon by Aelred of Rievaulx?', "Cistercian Studies Quarterly" 40 (2005): 45–82). See David N. Bell, ‘Ailred of Rievaulx (1110–1167)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 5 Aug 2013
^This seems to be a sermon that Aelred preached at Hexham on 3 March 1155, when the relics of five former bishops of Hexham were translated to new shrines.
^Marsha L Dutton, 'Introduction', in Aelred of Rievaulx, Spiritual Friendship, (Collegeville, MI, 2010), p21-2
^The entry on Aelred in the 1905 New International Encyclopedia states incorrectly that Aelred was canonized in 1191 ( "Ailred". New International Encyclopedia. 1905.). For correct information, see David N. Bell, ‘Ailred of Rievaulx (1110–1167)’, Oxford Dictionary of National Biography, Oxford University Press, 2004 accessed 5 Aug 2013
^Aelred Squire, OP, Aelred of Rievaulx: A Study, (London: SPCK, 1969), p2
^Sommerfeldt 2005, pp. 8-9; See also Boswell 1980, McGuire 1994, and Roden 2002.
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Walter Daniel, Vita Ailredi Abbatis Rievall. Ed. and transl. Maurice Powicke (Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1950). [Translation reprinted with a new introduction as The Life of Aelred of Rievaulx, and the Letter to Maurice. Translated by FM Powicke and Jane Patricia Freeland; Introduction by Marsha Dutton. Cistercian Fathers series no. 57 (Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1994.)]
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Aelred of Rievaulx, Dialogue on the Soul, trans. C. H. Talbot, Cistercian Father series 22 (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 1981).
Aelred of Rievaulx, Vita Niniani, translated by Winifred MacQueen, in John MacQueen, St. Nynia (Edinburgh: Polygon, 1990) [reprinted as (Edinburgh: John Donald, 2005)].
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Aelred of Rievaulx, The Liturgical Sermons I: The First Clairvaux Collection, Advent—All Saints, translated by Theodore Berkeley and M. Basil Pennington . Sermons 1-28, Advent - All Saints. Cistercian Fathers series no. 58, (Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications, 2001).
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