All, whether weak or strong, should find
in Rievaulx a haunt
of peace and there, like the fish in the broad seas, possess
the welcome, happy, spacious peace of charity.
[Walter Daniel, Life
of Aelred (1)]
The abbey of Rievaulx was founded in 1132. It was built to be the
first Cistercian outpost in the North, an abbey from which the
White Monks could reform and colonise northern England and Scotland.
St Bernard of Clairvaux was
the inspiration for the foundation; in March 1132 he sent a colony
of monks from Clairvaux, under
the direction of his secretary, William, to establish monastic
life in Yorkshire. The abbey had tremendous appeal, attracting
recruits from near and far, as well as high-profile benefactors
such as Henry II (1135-1154) and King David of Scotland (1124-1153).
The mid-twelfth century was a highpoint in Rievaulx’s history
with an increase in numbers, benefactors and holdings, but the
abbey enjoyed success throughout the Middle Ages and remained
the most prominent of the Northern English houses. Nevertheless,
the community had to face a number of problems including financial
difficulties, war, famine and cattle diseases. The Black
Death of 1348-9 had a devastating impact on
numbers and by the late fourteenth century there were only fourteen
monks, three lay-brothers and
an abbot. At the Dissolution of the abbey in 1538 the community
A striking testimony to Rievaulx’s
high reputation is the fact that three of its former members
were celebrated as saints:
William, the founding
abbot, Aelred, the third abbot, and Waldef,
at one time monk of Rievaulx and later abbot of its daughter-house, Melrose.