lundi 12 janvier 2015

Saint AELRED de RIEVAULX, abbé bénédictin


Représentation d'Ælred dans la miniature initiale de son écrit Miroir de la charité

Saint Aelred

Abbé de Rievaulx ( 1166)

Il aimait lire Cicéron. Raffiné, il réussissait à merveille à la cour du roi d'Écosse par son charme et son aménité. Ce qu'il désirait, c'était d'aimer et d'être aimé. Ce qu'il disait ainsi de lui n'était que façade mondaine, comme il l'écrivit plus tard dans son livre 'l'amitié spirituelle': "La blessure de mon cœur me cause des tourments indicibles et le poids de mes péchés m'est intolérable." Il entra alors chez les cisterciens de Rievaulx, abbaye du Yorkshire, qu'il gouverna quelques années plus tard. Il ne lisait plus Cicéron, mais sans cesse l'Évangile de saint Luc et celui de saint Jean. Il voulait aimer et être aimé du Seigneur Jésus. Il continuait d'écrire en bon latin et son petit traité sur l'amitié spirituelle est ravissant et d'une délicieuse lecture.

Élevé à la cour du roi d'Ecosse, Aelred a reçu une instruction solide, étudiant en autres les œuvres de Cicéron. Il est entré en 1135 à l'abbaye de Rievaulx près de York, fille de de l'abbaye de Clairvaux, dont il deviendra abbé en 1146. Très marqué par saint Augustin, il a composé des ouvrages historiques et spirituels très personnels, pleins de charme et riches d'enseignements. Il est vénéré comme un saint au Moyen Age. (éditions du Cerf - livres de l'auteur - Aelred de Rievaulx 1110 - 1166)

Au monastère de Rievaulx, en Northumbrie (Yorkshire), en 1166, saint Aelred, abbé. Élevé à la cour du roi d’Écosse, il entra dans l’Ordre de Cîteaux et, maître éminent de la vie monastique, promut avec insistance et suavité, par son action et par ses écrits, la vie spirituelle et l’amitié en Christ.


Martyrologe romain




INTRODUCTION

Le milieu

Lire des écrits d'un autre âge, sans évoquer le milieu et le climat dans lesquels ils ont été composés, serait se priver de les goûter et même se rendre incapable de les comprendre. Personne n'échappe aux idées de son temps. Lire les écrits d'un saint du XII° siècle suppose qu'on parte en pèlerinage dans le temps, comme on part visiter les lieux où il a vécu. Alors que des milliers de visiteurs vont contempler les ruines prestigieuses de l'abbaye de Rievaulx, combien peu songent à ces vestiges encore palpitants de vie que sont les manuscrits qui nous ont transmis les pensées et les paroles de son abbé le plus célèbre, saint Aelred. (1) Mais ces deux genres de pèlerinage demandent un même effort de dépaysement. Il faut quitter un monde d'idées comme on quitte des lieux familiers.

Situer rapidement ces écrits spirituels dans le cadre de la littérature religieuse et profane où ils s'insèrent, n'est pas une entreprise facile. Et cependant, comment faire revivre ces anciens auteurs, si, par un effort d'imagination, dont on est si prodigue quand il s'agit d'un roman, on n'évoque pas la chevalerie, la croisade, les chansons de gestes, les mystères au parvis des cathédrales et les ritournelles des ménestrels dans la grande salle des châteaux ? Saint Aelred nous dit avoir versé des larmes en entendant la légende du roi Arthur. Un fait nouveau impressionna vivement ces jeunes seigneurs qui se faisaient moines entre vingt et trente ans : la naissance de l'« amour courtois ». Ce n'est pas le lieu ici d'en étudier l'origine ou la nature, mais simplement de rappeler combien toute la littérature de cette époque en fut marquée. C'est à ce phénomène qu'il faut attribuer l'intérêt des philosophes et des spirituels du XIIe siècle pour la psychologie de l'amour. Aelred ne dira-t-il pas dans un sermon de Pentecôte : « Ah ! Si les hommes savaient, eux pour qui l'amour est le grand sujet de conversation, s'ils savaient ce qu'est l'amour de Dieu ! » (p. 129). Cependant quelque importante que soit cette influence profane sur l'esprit et le vocabulaire des auteurs monastiques du XIIe siècle, l'empreinte qu'ils reçurent de leur formation religieuse est plus importante et non moins difficile à saisir. Ils parlent et écrivent avec les mots et les phrases de l'Écriture sainte. La Bible était le livre où les enfants apprenaient à lire, les grammairiens y puisaient leurs paradigmes, les sculpteurs et les verriers des églises y cherchaient leurs sujets, les moralistes et les mystiques lui demandaient leurs exemples et leurs images. C'était une langue que tout le monde savait : nobles et paysans, clercs et laïcs. Malgré le retour de notre temps à la connaissance de l'Écriture, cette familiarité avec le texte sacré nous étonne et nous prend quelque peu au dépourvu. Il faudrait aussi retracer les débuts de l'Ordre de Cîteaux dont notre auteur fut un des représentants les plus convaincus. Une courte biographie de saint Aelred y suppléera.

(1) « Saint Aelred » : nous employons ce vocable communément reçu, pour nous conformer à la coutume généralisée dans les pays et dans les milieux cisterciens. Mais il est bien indiqué de signaler ici la brillante étude critique du Révérend Père Paul GROSJEAN dans les Analecta Bollandiazza LXXVIII (1960) 124-129, où l'éminent bollandiste démontre, à l'encontre d'une longue tradition, la non-existence de La prétendue canonisation d'Aelred de Rielvaulx par Célestin III.

Biographie sommaire

Saint Aelred naquit en 1110 à Hexham, en Écosse. Son père était le prêtre du lieu. En ce pays, le célibat ecclésiastique souffrait encore des exceptions à cette époque. Hexham avait été une abbaye célèbre au temps de l'expansion du christianisme en Grande-Bretagne au VIIIe siècle. Aelred fut élevé dans le culte de ce passé monastique ; puis il alla terminer son éducation au monastère bénédictin de Durham, où son père devait finir ses jours comme moine.

Un événement changea soudain l'existence du jeune homme. Le roi d'Écosse, David Ier, le choisit pour vivre à la cour, en compagnie de ses fils. Favorisé de l'affection et de la confiance du roi, Aelred devint une sorte de majordome du palais. Cette vie de cour n'était pas sans dissipations et ses amitiés ne furent pas sans reproche. Il rappellera plus tard à sa sœur recluse, combien elle s'était désolée de la légèreté de sa conduite. Les anciens hagiographes diffèrent, en général, des modernes par la manière de présenter les années qui précèdent la conversion de leurs saints. Tandis qu'aujourd'hui on se complaît, parfois jusqu'à l'excès, à marquer la rupture et le changement de vie, les anciens s'efforçaient de canoniser leur héros dès le berceau. Walter Daniel, moine de Rievaulx et secrétaire de saint Aelred, nous fournit dans sa « Vie d'Aelred » un excellent exemple de cette ancienne manière. Il dépassait les bornes en affirmant qu'Aelred vivait comme un moine à la cour d'Écosse. Une telle exagération ne devait pas échapper à deux chanoines qui, peu soucieux de voir canoniser un moine, ne manquèrent pas de publier aussitôt une mise au point. L'embarras de Walter Daniel à répondre à leurs attaques, suffit à trahir sa pieuse fraude, sans compter que les confessions réitérées de saint Aelred lui donnent le plus évident démenti. Comme les « Confessions » de saint Augustin, dont Aelred savait de longs passages par cœur, ces pages autobiographiques sont plus édifiantes, au sens propre du mot, que les éloges conventionnels les mieux intentionnés.

En 1134, le roi l'envoya en mission auprès de l'archevêque d'York, Thurstan. À l'occasion de ce voyage, il rendit visite dans les environs d'York à un parent qui lui parla de l'arrivée des moines cisterciens dans le pays. Aelred exprima aussitôt le désir de les voir. Ayant prit congé de l'archevêque, il suivit son parent jusqu'au château de Helmsley où vivait le comte Walter Espec, non loin du nouveau monastère. C'est, en effet, vers Walter Espec que le roi d'Angleterre avait dirigé les moines envoyés de Clairvaux par saint Bernard deux ans plus tôt. Le lendemain de l'arrivée d'Aelred, Walter Espec le conduisit à l'abbaye située sur les bords de la Rie ; ils y furent reçus avec le cérémonial d'usage par le prieur, l'hôtelier et le portier. Dans le cœur du jeune homme, des souvenirs d'enfance se réveillèrent et la grâce de Dieu fit son œuvre. Rentrés au château, Aelred, son hôte et ses compagnons passèrent la soirée à commenter cette visite. Le lendemain matin, il fallut repartir pour l'Écosse, mais la route que suivit Aelred avec son escorte, surplombait la vallée au fond de laquelle apparut bientôt le monastère. Au croisement d'un chemin qui y descend, il demanda à un de ses compagnons : « Que diriez-vous d'y aller faire une dernière visite ? ». Le compagnon acquiesça et la petite troupe gagna l'abbaye, et y fut reçue comme la veille : mais cette fois, avec la liberté de ceux qui ne calculent pas, Aelred décida d'y rester et de se faire moine. Ses compagnons durent repartir sans lui et aller annoncer la nouvelle au roi David. Après quatre jours passés à l'hôtellerie, Aelred fut invité à déclarer son intention à la communauté rassemblée au chapitre. On peut facilement imaginer la joie de cette petite communauté française à la vue d'une telle recrue. Il édifiait tous les moines par ses vertus, nous dit Walter Daniel, et attirait tous les regards par son extérieur agréable. « Ses attitudes étaient avenantes. Il ne se poussait pas en avant. D'une constitution délicate, il affrontait généreusement les travaux les plus pénibles et y égalait par son courage les hommes les plus robustes. Il ne ménageait pas la peau tendre de ses mains mais empoignait vigoureusement les rudes outils des travaux des champs. »

L'abbé Guillaume, l'ancien secrétaire de saint Bernard, le fit bientôt entrer dans son conseil et en 1141, il l'envoya négocier en cour de Rome l'affaire de l'élection simoniaque du successeur de l'archevêque d'York. À son retour de Rome, Aelred fut nommé maitre des novices. En 1143, il fut envoyé comme abbé de la fondation de Rievaulx à Revesby, près de Lincoln. Quatre ans plus tard, saint Aelred fut rappelé par les moines de Rievaulx qui l'avaient élu abbé, charge qu'il devait remplir durant vingt ans et jusqu'à sa mort. Il devait passer les dernières années de sa vie dans la maladie. Il se construisit une cabane à l'écart où il aimait à recevoir des groupes de ses moines pour leur parler des choses de Dieu. II mourut le 12 janvier 1167.

L'œuvre littéraire

Malgré les soucis qu'imposait le gouvernement d'une abbaye qui comptait cent quarante moines et cinq cents frères convers, le troisième abbé de Rievaulx nous a laissé une œuvre littéraire relativement importante. Il fut historien. Il recomposa en meilleur style une vie de saint Ninian, il fit un panégyrique des saints d'Hexham et composa la vie de saint Édouard. Il donna une relation de la bataille de l'Étendard qui mit aux prises deux de ses meilleurs amis : le roi David qui commandait les hordes d'envahisseurs écossais et Walter Espec, du côté anglais. II entretint aussi une vaste correspondance avec tous les grands de son temps, mais cette correspondance, qui comptait trois cents lettres, a malheureusement disparu.

Ce fut cependant son enseignement spirituel qui le rendit célèbre. Sa doctrine laissa sa marque sur toute la spiritualité anglaise. Les écrits spirituels parvenus jusqu'à nous, se composent de sermons, de traités et de commentaires d'Écriture. Pas plus que saint Bernard, saint Aelred n'est homme de lettres ou théoricien en chambre. Il s'agit moins pour eux de spéculer que de convaincre et d'entrainer les âmes dans les voies de l'évangile. Mais, s'ils se méfient des arguties d'école, ils ont par contre un grand souci de construite leur doctrine spirituelle sur le dogme et sur une connaissance sérieuse de la nature, et des propriétés de l'âme humaine.

Bien qu'à plusieurs reprises, saint Aelred ait avoué avoir éprouvé le besoin d'écrire pour contenir les excès d'une imagination trop riche et quelque peu vagabonde, il ne publia rien qu'il n'y ait été invité ou contraint. Saint Bernard le força à composer le « Miroir de la charité » ; ses moines lui demandèrent les homélies sur Isaïe ; c'est à la demande d'un moine de Wardon, qu'il composa la méditation sur saint Luc : « Quand Jésus eut douze ans » ; c'est à la prière réitérée de sa sœur recluse, qu'il consentit à écrire une règle pour des recluses. Quand on a fait la part de la fiction littéraire, il reste que le fait d'écrire à l'intention de quelqu'un, rend un style plus direct et plus spontané et, finalement, plus universel que le ton impersonnel qui est de tous les temps, mais ne touche personne. Son don de sympathie et cette manière de méditation discursive coupée d'élans dans lesquels sa prière affleure, donnent à ses écrits une fraîcheur conservée intacte après huit siècles. S'il est très près de nous, c'est, sans doute, parce qu'il est très humain. Mais on n'est très humain qu'en étant pleinement homme de son temps. Dom Knowles a dit très finement que rares étaient les personnages du moyen âge qui nous donnaient, autant que lui, le sentiment d'être à la fois très proches et très lointains : il est très proche de nous parce que notre cœur se reconnaît dans le sien ; très lointain parce que ses sentiments sont marqués des goûts d'une époque qui nous échappe sans cesse. Ambiguïté Inévitable mais qui n'est pas sans charme.

Le sens de l'histoire n'est pas seul à nous mettre en communion avec l’âme d'un saint. Il y a aussi pour des chrétiens la communion des saints. « Les faits de l'histoire, écrivait le Père Dalgairn, dans la préface d'une vie de saint Aelred, ont besoin d'être interprétés, sans quoi ils n'ont aucun sens. Or l'interprétation de la vie d'un saint, c'est l'Église qui nous la donne. » L'Église nous met en communion avec l'esprit d'un auteur qui a vécu de l'esprit du Christ. Un saint devient alors un de ces amis, dont parle Aelred dans son traité de l'Amitié ; un ami qui, dans son amitié même, nous rapproche de Dieu.



 St. Ælred

Abbot of Rievaulx, homilist and historian (1109-66). St. Ælred, whose name is also written Ailred, Æthelred, and Ethelred, was the son of one of those married priests of whom many were found in England in the eleventh and twelfth centuries. He was born at Hexham, but at an early age made the acquaintance of David, St. Margaret's youngest son, shortly afterwards King of Scotland, at whose court he apparently acted for some years as a sort of page, or companion to the young Prince Henry. King David loved the pious English youth, promoted him in his household, and wished to make him bishop, but Ælred decided to become a Cistercian monk, in the recently founded abbey of Rievaulx in Yorkshire. Soon he was appointed master of novices, and was long remembered for his extraordinary tenderness and patience towards those under his charge. In 1143 when William, Earl of Lincoln, founded a new Cistercian abbey upon his estates at Revesby in Lincolnshire, St. Ælred was sent with twelve monks to take possession of the new foundation. His stay at Revesby, where he seems to have met St. Gilbert of Sempringham, was not of long duration, for in 1146 he was elected abbot of Rievaulx. In this position the saint was not only superior of a community of 300 monks, but he was head of all the Cistercian abbots in England. Causes were referred to him, and often he had to undertake considerable journeys to visit the monasteries of his order. Such a journey in 1153 took him to Scotland, and there meeting King David, for the last time, he wrote on his return to Rievaulx, where the news of David's death reached him shortly afterwards, a sympathetic sketch of the character of the late king. He seems to have exercised considerable influence over Henry II, in the early years of his reign, and to have persuaded him to join Louis VII of France in meeting Pope Alexander III, at Touci, in 1162. Although suffering from a complication of most painful maladies, he journeyed to France to attend the general chapter of his Order. He was present in Westminster Abbey, at the translation of St. Edward the Confessor, in 1163, and, in view of this event, he both wrote a life of the saintly king and preached a homily in his praise. The next year Ælred undertook a mission to the barbarous Pictish tribes of Galloway, where their chief is said to have been so deeply moved by his exhortations that he became a monk. Throughout his last years Ælred gave an extraordinary example of heroic patience under a succession of infirmities. He was, moreover, so abstemious that he is described as being "more like a ghost than a man." His death is generally supposed to have occurred 12 January, 1166, although there are reasons for thinking that the true year may be 1167. St. Ælred left a considerable collection of sermons, the remarkable eloquence of which has earned for him the title of the English St. Bernard. He was the author of several ascetical treatises, notably the "Speculum Charitatis," also a compendium of the same (really a rough draught from which the larger work was developed), a treatise "De Spirituali Amicitiâ," and a certain letter to an anchoress. All these, together with a fragment of his historical work, were collected an published by Richard Gibbons, S.J., at Douai, in 1631. A fuller and better edition is contained in the fifth volume of the "Bibliotheca Cisterciensis" of Tissier, 1662, from which they have been printed in P.L., vol. CXCV. The historical works include a "Life of St. Edward," an important account of the "Battle of the Standard" (1138), an incomplete work on the genealogy of the kings of England, a tractate "De Sanctimonialide Watton" (About the Nun of Watton), a "Life of St. Ninian," a work on the "Miracles of the Church of Hexham," an account of the foundations of St. Mary of York and Fountains Abbey, as well as some that are lost. No complete edition of Ælred's historical opuscula has ever been published. A few were printed by Twysden in his "Decem Scriptores," others must be sought in the Rolls Series or in Raine's "Priory of Hexham" (Surtees Society, Durham, 1864).

Sources

An anonymous Latin Life of St. Ælred is printed by the Bollandists, Acta SS., January, vol. II; while other materials may be gathered from RAINE, Priory of Hexham, and from Ælred's own writings. An excellent short biography was compiled by Father Dalgairns for NEWMAN's series of Lives of the English Saints, 1845 (new ed., London, 1903); Dict. of Nat. Biog. s.v. Ethelred (XVIII, 33-35); BARING-GOULD, Lives of the Saints, I, and the great Cistercian collections of HENRIQUEZ and MANRIQUE.


Thurston, Herbert. "St. Ælred." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. 11 Jan. 2016<http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01172b.htm>.

SOURCE : http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01172b.htm


St. Aelred, Abbot in England

[Abbot of Rieval, or Ridal, in Yorkshire.]  HE was of noble descent, and was born in the north of England, in 1109. Being educated in learning and piety, he was invited by David, the pious king of Scotland, to his court, made master of his household, and highly esteemed both by him and the courtiers. His virtue shone with bright lustre in the world, particularly his meekness, which Christ declared to be his favourite virtue, and the distinguishing mark of his true disciples. The following is a memorable instance to what a degree he possessed this virtue: a certain person of quality having insulted and reproached him in the presence of the king, Aelred heard him out with patience, and thanked him for his charity and sincerity, in telling him his faults. This behaviour had such an influence on his adversary as made him ask his pardon on the spot. Another time, whilst he was speaking on a certain matter, one interrupted him with very harsh reviling expressions: the servant of God heard him with tranquillity, and afterwards resumed his discourse with the same calmness and presence of mind as before. His desires were ardent to devote himself entirely to God, by forsaking the world; but the charms of friendship detained him some time longer in it, and were fetters to his soul; reflecting notwithstanding that he must sooner or later be separated by death from those he loved most, he condemned his own cowardice, and broke at once those bands of friendship, which were more agreeable to him than all other sweets of life. He describes the situation of his soul under this struggle, and says, “Those who saw me, judging by the gaudy show which surrounded me, and not knowing what passed within my soul, said, speaking of me: “Oh, how well is it with him! how happy is he! But they knew not the anguish of my mind; for the deep wound in my heart gave me a thousand tortures, and I was not able to hear the intolerable stench of my sins.” But after he had taken his resolution, he says, “I began then to know, by a little experience, what immense pleasure is found in thy service, and how sweet that peace is, which is its inseparable companion.” 1 To relinquish entirely all his worldly engagements, he left Scotland, and embraced the austere Cistercian order, at Rieval, in a valley upon the banks of the Rie, in Yorkshire, where a noble lord, called Walter Especke, had founded a monastery in 1122. At the age of twenty-four, in 1133, he became a monk under the first abbot, William, a disciple of St. Bernard. Fervour adding strength to his tender delicate body, he set himself cheerfully about practising the greatest austerities, and employed much of his time in prayer and the reading of pious books. He converted his heart with great ardour to the love of God, and by this means finding all his mortifications sweet and light, he cried out, 2 “That yoke doth not oppress, but raiseth the soul; that burden hath wings, not weight.” He speaks of divine charity always in raptures, and by his frequent ejaculations on the subject, it seems to have been the most agreeable occupation of his soul. 3 “May thy voice,” says he, “sound in my ears, O good Jesus, that my heart may learn how to love thee, that my mind may love thee, that the interior powers, and, as it were, bowels of my soul, and very marrow of my heart, may love thee, and that my affections may embrace thee, my only true good, my sweet and delightful joy! What is love? my God! If I mistake not, it is the wonderful delight of the soul, so much the more sweet as more pure, so much the more overflowing and inebriating as more ardent. He who loves thee, possesses thee; and he possesses thee in proportion as he loves, because thou art love. This is that abundance with which thy beloved are inebriated, melting away from themselves, that they may pass into thee, by loving thee.” He had been much delighted in his youth with reading Tully; but after his conversion found that author, and all other reading, tedious and bitter, which was not sweetened with the honey of the holy name of Jesus, and seasoned with the word of God, as he says in the preface to his book, On spiritual friendship. He was much edified with the very looks of a holy monk, called Simon, who had despised high birth, an ample fortune, and all the advantages of mind and body, to serve God in that penitential state. This monk went and came as one deaf and dumb, always recollected in God; and was such a lover of silence, that he would scarcely speak a few words to the prior on necessary occasions. His silence however was sweet, agreeable, and full of edification. Our saint says of him, “The very sight of his humility stifled my pride, and made me blush at the immortification of my looks. The law of silence practised among us, prevented my ever speaking to him deliberately; but one day, on my speaking a word to him inadvertently, his displeasure appeared in his looks for my infraction of the rule of silence; and he suffered me to lie some time prostrate before him to expiate my fault; for which I grieved bitterly, and which I never could forgive myself.” 4 This holy monk having served God eight years in perfect fidelity, died in 1142, in wonderful peace, repeating with his last breath, “I will sing eternally, O Lord, thy mercy, thy mercy, thy mercy!”

St. Aelred, much against his inclination, was made abbot of a new monastery of his order, founded by William, Earl of Lincoln, at Revesby, in Lincolnshire, in 1142, and of Rieval, over three hundred monks, in 1143. Describing their life, he says, that they drank nothing but water; eat little, and that coarse; laboured hard, slept little, and on hard boards; never spoke, except to their superiors on necessary occasions; carried the burdens that were laid on them without refusing any; went wherever they were led; had not a moment for sloth, or amusements of any kind, and never had any law-suit or dispute. 5 St. Aelred also mentions their mutual charity and peace in the most affecting manner, and is not able to find words to express the joy he felt at the sight of every one of them. His humility and love of solitude made him constantly refuse many bishoprics which were pressed upon him. Pious reading and prayer were his delight. Even in times of spiritual dryness, if he opened the divine books, he suddenly found his soul pierced with the light of the Holy Ghost. His eyes, though before as dry as marble, flowed with tears, and his heart abandoned itself to sighs, accompanied with a heavenly pleasure, by which he was ravished in God. He died in 1166, and the fifty-seventh of his age, having been twenty-two years abbot. See his works published at Douay, in 1625, and in Bibl. Cisterc. t. 5. particularly his Mirrour of Charity; Hearne’s Notes on Gulielmus Neubrigensis, who dedicated to our saint the first book of his history, t. 3. p. 1. likewise his life in Capgrave, and the annals of his order. The general chapter held at Citeaux in 1250, declared him to be ranked among the saints of their order; as Henriquez and the additions to the Cistercian Martyrology testify in the new Martyrology, published by Benedict XIV. for the use of this order, the feast of St. Aelred is marked on the 2nd of March, 6 with a great eulogium of his learning, innocence of life, wonderful humility, patience, heavenly conversation, gift of prophecy, and miracles.

Note 1. Spec. l. 1. c. 28. [back]

Note 2. Ibid. l. 1. c. 6. [back]

Note 3. Ibid. l. 1. c. 1. [back]

Note 4. Spec. l. 1. c. ult. [back]

Note 5. L. 2. c. 27. [back]

Note 6. P. 304. [back]

Rev. Alban Butler (1711–73).  Volume I: January. The Lives of the Saints.  1866.

SOURCE : http://www.bartleby.com/210/1/124.html

Aelred, OSB Cist. Abbot (AC)
(also known as Ailred, Ethelred)


Born in Hexham, Northumberland, England, c. 1109; died at Rievaulx Monastery, Yorkshire, England, on January 12, 1167; canonized by the General Chapter of Cîteaux in 1250 (and Attwater says he was canonized in 1191 but he is not in the Roman Martyrology so this statement may be in error); today is the feast celebrated by the Cistercians, feast day on calendar also on March 3, when it is celebrated in Hexham, Liverpool, Middleborough, and by the Cistercians; feast day formerly on January 12. Aelred belonged to a noble family. He was the son and grandson of parish priests of Hexham--sainthood was probably in his genes. He was educated at Durham in the arts, letters, and the new humanism of the time.


At about age 20, Aelred was taken into the service of King Saint David at the beginning of his reign. Aelred became a clerk and then high steward of the household in the Scottish court because he was so beloved for his piety, gentleness, humility, and spirituality by King David, who, though son of Saint Margaret, considered the sword and knighthood more certain guarantees of his kingdom whose districts and frontier fiefs were in continual legal disputes.

The favors that Aelred received at court won him enemies. One of the king's knights, a jealous man, developed a hatred for Aelred because of the favors constantly bestowed upon him. One day his intense hatred burst out in the presence of the king himself. Bitter reproaches and insults followed.

Aelred replied without emotion: "You are right, Sir Knight, and you have said the truth: your words are exact, and I see that you are a true friend of mine." The soldier begged his pardon immediately, and swore that henceforth he would do everything he could for Aelred. "I am very happy you have repented," said Aelred, "and I like you the more for it, because your jealousy has been for you a means of advancing in the love of God."

Aelred formed a close relationship with David's son, Earl Henry. His soul was so torn between answering God's call to the cloistered life and remaining at court with Henry. Aelred considered friendship a most precious gift. His dilemma was solved when he visited the recently-founded Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx on his return from an interview with the archbishop of York.

Aelred chose not to return to the Scottish court. Thus, at age 24 (c. 1134), Aelred enter Rievaulx, where Saint Bernard had appointed his secretary William as abbot over the monks from Clairvaux who formed the community. In spite of delicate health, Aelred conformed to the austere regime and became so esteemed by his community that he was chosen as envoy to Rome in 1142 over the disputed election of Saint William of York and, soon afterwards, as master of novices.

Within a short time, he was obliged to change monasteries to avoid being named a bishop; but no sooner had he relocated himself than he was chosen to be abbot of a new Cistercian monastery in Revesby, Lincolnshire, in 1143. His biographers say that this new position did not prevent his "living a life of the severest asceticism." Under his rule, the house prospered, increasing in size to 150 choir monks and 500 lay brothers and lay servants--the largest in England. It expanded to five other foundations in England and Scotland.

Inspired by the writings of Saints John Chrysostom and Augustine and augmented by Aelred's own gentle holiness and natural charity, he was able to humanize the intransigence of Cistercian monasticism and attracted men of similar character to his own. Through his many friends as well as his writings, Aelred became a figure of national importance. He was chosen to preach at Westminster for the translation of Saint Edward the Confessor. This led him to compose a vita of Edward; he had already completed one on Saint Ninian and one the saints of Hexham.

Four years later he returned to Rievaulx as abbot, succeeding Abbot Maurice. During his abbacy the number of monks at Rievaulx rose to over 600, attracted by his kindly, humane nature. In addition to looking after these he had every year to visit other Cistercian houses in England and Scotland, and even to go as far afield as the Cistercian centers of Cîteaux and Clairvaux. These journeys must have been a great trial to him, for during his later years Aelred suffered from a painful disease in addition to rheumatism.

Aelred became known for his prudence and holiness throughout England. He was admitted to the councils of the highest dignitaries in the land and was constantly called upon to settle disputes. King Henry II of England was his friend, and, in 1160, during the papal schism, he was able to influence the king on behalf of Pope Alexander III.

In 1164, he went to Galway in Ireland as a missionary but the following year he returned to England. Famed for his preaching, energy, sympathetic gentleness, and asceticism, Aelred was consider a saint in his own lifetime. He was also considered a delightful companion because of his wit, easy speech, and brilliant mind.

His biographer and disciple, Walter Daniel records: "I lived under his rule for 17 years, and in that time he did not dismiss anyone from the monastery." Aelred's name, indeed, is particularly associated with friendship--human and divine. One of his two best known writings is a little work On Spiritual Friendship which is delicately beautiful. Only when Aelred's enormous capacity for friendship was transformed by charity was finally able to write the unique treatment of the subject. It resembles Cicero's dialogue on the topic, but is identifiably Christian in its approach.

Aelred also penned the Mirror of Charity (Seculum caritas), a treatise on Christian perfection. His sermons on Isaiah are also fine writing and he also composed biographies of the saints. He was in the process of writing a treatise on the human soul, which was left unfinished, by his death at age 57. His writings and sermons are characterized by a constant appeal to the Bible and to a love of Christ as friend and savior that was the mainspring of his life.

Saint Aelred's frequent travel and writings merited for him the title of "a second Saint Bernard" or "the Bernard of the North." On his way to his Scottish foundations, Aelred used to visit his friend Saint Godric of Finchale. In the last year of his life, he could no longer travel. After being for a time virtually in a state of physical collapse, Saint Aelred died his monastery, in a shed adjoining the infirmary that he had made his quarters. The historian of monasticism in England, Professor David Knowles, says that Aelred is "a singularly attractive figure . . . No other English monk of the 12th century so lingers in the memory."

Saint Aelred was buried in the chapter house. Later his relics were translated to the church. Aelred was never formally canonized; however, his local cultus was approved by the Cistercians who promulgated his feast (Attwater, Attwater2, Benedictines, Coulson, Delaney, Encyclopedia, Farmer, Powicke, Squire).



Saint AELRED de RIEVAULX. Textes choisis, traduits et présentés par le R.P. Charles Dumont, o.c.s.o. : http://livres-mystiques.com/partieTEXTES/aelred/table.htm

Marie-Benoit BERNARD, ocso. L’amitié chez Aelred et Augustin. Une grâce de Dieu. Collectanea Cisterciensia 68 (2006) 48-58 : http://www.citeaux.net/collectanea/Bernard.pdf