Aelred of Hexham, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167

Aelred was a Northumbrian in the early Norman period, born at Hexham in 1109. His father was a priest (not then forbidden). After serving at the court of David I and rising to be the Master of the Household he joined the Cistercians at Rievaulx in about 1133. He left to serve as abbot of another Cistercian house but returned to Rievaulx both as abbot and to focus on his writing, at the request of Bernard of Clairvaux. (Aelred was called "The Bernard of the North" by Dom David Knowles.). He died on this day at Rievaulx in 1167.

His works include Mirror of Charity, On Spiritual Friendship, Rule of Life for a Recluse, Jesus as a Boy of Twelve, Pastoral Prayer, On the Soul, Genealogy of the Kings of the English, Relatio de Standardo, Lament for the Death of King David of Scotland, The Life of Saint Edward, King and Confessor, The Life of Saint Ninian, On the Saints of Hexham, and A Certain Wonderful Miracle, as well as many sermons.

The Collect for Aelred speaks of friendship and mutual affection,a nd his sexuality has attracted comment. In On Spiritual Friendship, he writes for instance:

"While I was still a schoolboy, the charm of my friends greatly captivated me, so that among the foibles and failings with which that age is fraught, my mind surrendered itself completely to emotion and devoted itself to love. Nothing seemed sweeter or nicer or more worthwhile than to love and be loved."

This has led some homosexual groups to adopt him as their patron, but in general in the Mirror of Charity and elsewhere he takes a traditional though charitable stance on these matters.


Almighty God,
who endowed Aelred the abbot
with the gift of Christian friendship
and the wisdom to lead others in the way of holiness:
grant to your people that same spirit of mutual affection,
so that, in loving one another,
we may know the love of Christ
and rejoice in the eternal possession
   of your supreme goodness;
through Jesus Christ your Son our Lord,
who is alive and reigns with you,
in the unity of the Holy Spirit,
one God, now and for ever.



[edit] Sexuality

Aelred’s works, private letters and his Life by Walter Daniel, another twelfth-century monk of Rievaulx, have led some scholars to infer from that he was homosexual.

In writing to an anchoress in "Rule of Life for a Recluse", Aelred speaks of this as the time when she held on to her virtue and he lost his.[4]

Sabine Baring-Gould says of this saint "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." [5]

However, Aelred appears to have openly rejected homosexuality in the Mirror of Charity. [6]. All of his works encourage virginity among the unmarried and chastity in marriage and widowhood and warn against any sexual activity outside of marriage; in all his works he treats same-sex and opposite-sex as dangerous to one’s oath to celibacy whilst condemning the "unnatural relations" as a rejection of charity and the law (of God). At the same time, he was compassionate about human failings, criticised the absence of pastoral care for the Nun of Watton and her pregnancy while within a Gilbertine convent.

[edit] Patronage

There is a high school named after St. Aelred in Newton-le-Willows, Lancashire in the United Kingdom, and also a primary school in York. Formerly there was a High School in Glenburn, Paisley named after St Aelred on Gleniffer Road.

Several homosexual-friendly organisations have adopted Ailred as their patron saint, such as Integrity in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America,[7] National Anglican Catholic Church in the northeast United States, and the Order of St. Aelred[8] in the Philippines.

One thought on “Aelred of Hexham, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167

  1. Pingback: Tweets that mention Aelred of Hexham, Abbot of Rievaulx, 1167 « Bishop’s Blog --

Comments are closed.