On January 12, 1167, Aelred, Abbot of Rievaulx died; therefore, this is his feast day. He was born c. 1110 in Hexham to a priestly family , was educated there and possibly at Durham, and was a courtier of David I, king of Scots, before entering the Cistercian abbey of Rievaulx in the early or mid 1130s. In 1143 Ailred became the first abbot of its daughter house of Revesby in the Lincolnshire Wolds. In 1147 he was elected abbot of Rievaulx, a position he held until his death. Under his rule Rievaulx was a vibrant institution, helping to spread the Cistercian model of momastic life across northern England and beyond.
In his book, Saints and Scholars: Twenty-Five Medieval Portraits, David Knowles comments that St. Aelred of Rievaulx is a "singularly attractive figure whom, thanks to the records left by a disciple and still more to his own writings, we can see as a living man in some completeness. . . . As we read, a corner of the veil that hides the past from us seems to lift . . ."
Among St. Aelred's 13 surviving written works, perhaps the most famous is his treatise on Spiritual Friendship:
"Friendship is that virtue by which spirits are bound by ties of love and sweetness, and out of many are made one. Even the philosophers of this world have ranked friendship not with things casual or transitory but with the virtues which are eternal. Solomon in the Book of Proverbs appears to agree with them when he says: "he that is a friend loves at all times," manifestly declaring that friendship is eternal if it is true friendship; but if it should ever cease to be, then it was not true friendship, even though it seemed to be so."
"For spiritual friendship, which we call true, should be desired, not for consideration of any worldly advantage or for any extrinsic cause, but from the dignity of its own nature and the feelings of the human heart, so that its fruition and reward Is nothing other than itself. ... And so spiritual friendship among the just is born of a similarity in life, morals, and pursuits, that is, it is a mutual conformity in matters human and divine united with benevolence and charity."
"This type of friendship is not common."
His abbey was, of course, suppressed during Henry VIII's reign, and on 3 December 1538 Abbot Blyton and his twenty-two monks gathered in Rievaulx’s chapter-house for the final time and surrendered their abbey to the royal commissioners. But now the abbey is a National Park, hailed as "one of the most complete and impressive abbeys in Britain" and "one of the most popular visitor attractions in the North"!