Aelred was born in 1109, of a family which had long been treasurers of the shrine of Cuthbert of Lindisfarne at Durham Cathedral. While still a youth, he was sent for education in upper-class life to the court of King David of Scotland, son of Queen Margaret. The King's stepsons Simon and Waldef were his models and intimate friends. After intense disillusion and inner struggle, Aelred went to Yorkshire, where he became a Cistercian monk at the abbey of Rievaulx in 1133.

Aelred soon became a major figure in English church life. Sent to Rome on diocesan affairs by Archbishop William of York, he returned by way of Clairvaux. Here he made a deep impression on Bernard, who encouraged the young monk to write his first work, Mirror of Charity, on Christian perfection. In 1143, Aelred led the founding of a new Cistercian house at Revesby. Four years later he was appointed abbot of Rievaulx. By the time of his death from a painful kidney disease in 1167, the abbey had over 600 monks, including Aelred's biographer and friend, Walter Daniel. During this period, Aelred wrote his best known work, Spiritual Friendship.

Friendship, Aelred teaches, is both a gift from God and a creation of human effort. While love is universal, freely given to all, friendship is a particular love between individuals, of which the example is Jesus and John the Beloved Disciple. As abbot, Aelred allowed his monks to hold hands and give other expressions of friendship. In the spirit of Anselm of Canterbury and Bernard of Clainaux, Aelred writes:

There are four qualities which characterize a friend: loyalty, right intention, discretion, and patience. Right intention seeks for nothing other than God and natural good. Discretion brings understanding of what is done on a friend's behalf, and ability to know when to correct faults. Patience enables one to be justly rebuked, or to bear adversity on another's behalf. Loyalty guards and protects friendship, in good or bitter times.
Lesser Feasts And Fasts, c 1991 Church Pension Fund.

For more information on Aelred, please see:

Freeland, Jane P. and Maraha Dutton, editors. Aelred of Rievaulx. Kalamazoo, Michigan: Cistercian Publications, 1994. LC 93-46002 ISBN 0-87907-265-3 or 0-87907-288-1 This book may be for sale from St. Joseph's Abbey, Spencer, MA 01562 Telephone 508-885-7011

McGuire, Brian P. Brother and Lover: Aelred of Rivaulx. New York: Crossroad, 1994. $22.50. LC 93-49884 ISBN 0-8245-1405-X

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Bridge Building Images has a nice icon of Aelred as an older man, focusing on him as the patron of friendship (although they do have icons which have gay subjects). There's a paragraph or so of description with the icon--it's available as a notecard, Holy Card, Small plaque, small photo,8"x10" photo (gloss and matte), and magnet. Write to them at:

Bridge Building Images
PO Box 1048
Burlington, VT 05402
Tel: 802-864-8346
Fax: 802-865-2434

Last updated 16 January 1996

Kate Monteiro,