Aereld of Rievaulx and the Creation of An Anglo Saxon Past

Session 72: English Cistercians and English Critics

Sponsor: Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies, Western Michigan Univ.
Organizer: E. Rozanne Elder, Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies, Western Michigan University
Presider: Margory Lange, Western Oregon University

Aereld of Rievaulx and the Creation of An Anglo Saxon Past 

Chad Turner (John Jay College of Criminal Justice CUNY)


This paper was part of a series on English Cistercians. This first paper focused on Aelred of Rievaulx and the abbey of Hexum.

Aelred’s work discussed the affects of the ninth century invasions. Aelred recounted how his grandfather and father helped rebuild Hexum abbey and how his family was responsible for care of the church. Aelred wrote about of the circumstances that brought his grandfather, Eilaf, to Hexum and how Aelred’s father, also named Eilaf, continued the rebuilding of the abbey and helped move saint’s relics to safer locations. Aelred wrote about the bishops and saints of Hexum.

The paper also discussed how self portrayal was important for Cistercians and how they incorporated the motif of renewal to further bolster their support. Aelred used this motif in his work on Hexum, but he was very careful with his quotes and allusions. The renewal of Hexum worked to evoke the motif of Cistercian renewal.

This was the century of the great chroniclers and continuity was important in establishing group identity, patronage, exemptions and privileges. Aelred was composing this work in a changing time for his monastery where houses were competing with each other for patronage. Rievaulx would push smaller houses out in a monopolistic fashion and as a result, there was often conflict amongst the religious houses.

Hagiography was also important in Aelred’s text. The  stories of the Saints of Hexum were useful in educating Cistercians. The role of narrative was important in the formation of novices. The novice was to replace his memories with those of the stories, for example, putting himself in the place of Christ at the Crucifixion. The ability of some of its major figures was why the Cistercians were able to be one of the greater houses of the middle ages.


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