Aelred Changed History by Choosing Church

Aelred Changed History by Choosing Church

History is full of surprising connections. One of them ties this day's notable Christian figure to the future of the throne of Scotland. Aelred was born in 1109, the son of a priest with court connections. (In those days, many English priests married.) Aelred spent time at the court of King David I of Scotland where he was liked so well that he was appointed Steward of Scotland--an influential position.

But Aelred hankered for the religious life. King David would have awarded the gifted young man a bishop's see, but Aelred refused. Instead, he chose to become a Cistercian monk. However, his abilities made him master even there. In 1146, he was elected abbot of Rievaulx. This made him superior of a community of at least 150 monks--and head of all the Cistercian abbots in England.

He must have been a man of strong determination, for, despite illness, he traveled often: hearing cases and attending conferences. On top of this, he wrote extensively. When his old friend, King David I of Scotland, died, he penned an account of his life. Aelred also wrote the life of another king, Edward the Confessor, an act prompted by the translation of Edward's remains to the rebuilt Westminster Chapel.

Aelred wrote popular devotional and ascetic works. These are often compared with the writings of Bernard of Clairvaux. He also reworked Cicero's essay "On Friendship," extending the Roman's teachings with concepts of Christian brotherly love. And, of course, he preached. Many of his sermons still exist. Evidently, his words had the power to stir souls. When Aelred undertook a missionary trip to Galloway, its Pictish King was so moved by the preacher's words that he became a monk!

When Aelred resigned the stewardship of Scotland, history was changed. David awarded the vacant position to Walter FitzAlan, who assumed the title "First High Steward." His son Alan, succeeded him as steward. The job remained in their family and the later stewards of Scotland sometimes performed notable service for the crown. Six generations later, through intermarriage with the family of Robert the Bruce, one of the steward's sons, Robert, became King Robert II of Scotland, the first of the Steward (Stuart) line.

Aelred could foresee none of this, of course, when he obeyed his conscience and turned to the church. On this day, January 12, 1167, Aelred died. January 12 became his feast day.


  1. "Ailred, St." Oxford Dictionary of the Christian Church. Edited by F. L. Cross and E. A. Livingstone. Oxford, 1997.
  2. Baring-Gould, S. Lives of the Saints. Edinburgh: John Grant, 1914. Souce of the image.
  3. Keifer, James. "Aelred of Rievaulx, Abbot." (
  4. McGuire, Brian Patrick. Brother and lover : Aelred of Rievaulx. New York : Crossroad, 1994.
  5. Squire, Aelred. Aelred of Rievaulx: a study. London: S.P.C.K., 1969.
  6. Thurston, Herbert. "St. Aelred." The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton, 1914.
  7. Walter, Daniel, fl. 1170. The life of Ailred of Rievaulx. Translated from the Latin with introduction and notes by F. M. Powicke. New York: Oxford University Press, 1951.
  8. Various encyclopedia and internet articles.

Last updated May, 2007.

Originally published April 28, 2010.