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Maurice, abbot of Rievaulx (1145-7) (1)

The Chrysologus manuscript. It is thought that William may have brought this with him from Durham to Rievaulx.
© British Library
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The Chrysologus manuscript

A man of great sanctity and of outstanding judgement … that man had climbed so high as to be called a second Bede and truly in his day, by his predecessors both in life and learning he alone could be compared with Bede.(2)

Before he took the Cistercian habit at Rievaulx Abbey, c. 1138, Maurice was a monk of the Benedictine cathedral priory of Durham, where he held the office of sub-prior and was highly reputed for his learning.

Maurice officiated as cantor of Rievaulx and later as abbot. However, he only held this post for eighteen months for when Henry Murdac, the abbot of Fountains, was elevated to the see of York, he chose Maurice as his successor. Maurice resigned from the abbacy of Fountains after only three months in office. He returned for a time to Rievaulx but probably withdrew elsewhere until his death some time after 1163, i.e. after the death of Aelred of Rievaulx.

Several of Maurice’s works are listed in Rievaulx’s late twelfth / early thirteenth-century library catalogue and include his ‘Apologia’, sermons, soliloquies, letters and a tract on the translation of St Cuthbert in 1104.(3) None of these is known to survive, except for a letter from Thomas Becket to a Maurice of Rievaulx, requesting prayers. This was written shortly after Becket’s appointment to the see of Canterbury in 1162, and if the Maurice can be equated with the former abbot of Rievaulx and Fountains, this suggests that Maurice was then – if not now – widely known and highly reputed.(4) Interestingly it was Hugh de Moreville, one of Thomas Becket’s companions (and one of the four who later murdered the archbishop in 1170), who travelled to the abbey to deliver this letter.