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The Cistercians in Yorkshire title graphic


The death of distinguished members of the Order

Chapter-house at Rievaulx
© Stuart Harrison
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Chapter-house at Rievaulx

The death of a distinguished member of the Order, such as Aelred, the venerable abbot of Rievaulx, called for more elaborate procedures. Walter Daniel’s biography of the abbot recounts the last few days of Aelred’s life, and sheds some light on the preparations for his death and burial.(9) Several days before Aelred’s death, Abbot Roger of Byland (1146-1196) visited Rievaulx to anoint the abbot and administer the sacrament. A number of the Rievaulx monks attended Aelred’s bedside out of love, more than duty; Walter himself claims that this was ‘an awe-inspiring experience’. The day before Aelred’s death Abbot Richard of Fountains (c. 1147-70), Abbot Roger of Byland and almost all the monks, as well as several lay-brothers remained in the holy man’s presence; Walter sat with Aelred’s head in his hands while an account of Christ’s Passion was read aloud. When Aelred’s death was imminent the brethren and four abbots gathered around while he was placed on a hair-shirt strewn with ashes, ‘according to the monastic custom’. Upon his death Aelred’s body was washed and baptised, and, rather unusually, three of his fingers were anointed with the little that remained of his special balm. Once this had been completed Aelred’s body was carried into the church, where his Mass was celebrated the following day and the appropriate funeral rites observed. The abbot was then borne into the chapter-house where he was buried beside his predecessor, Abbot William.

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