Discovering the Breton Saints. January 12th is Saint Aofred’s Day

In this section, we invite you to discover the history of the Saints Bretons. The Breton saints designate Breton personalities venerated for the exemplary character of their life from a Christian point of view. Few of them were recognized as saints by the canonization procedure of the Catholic Church (implemented several centuries after their death), but were designated by the people, their very existence not always being historically attested. Most of the vitae of Breton saints that have come down to us date from the ninth and tenth centuries or were rewritten in the context of the Gregorian reform which sometimes led clerics to remodel hagiographical documents, derived from oral traditions transmitted both in the old popular background than in scholarly circles, in their interest (legitimization of the episcopal figure, of the merits of a reform of a monastic community). The development of the cult of these saints develops in the late Middle Ages when several families of the Breton aristocracy appropriate the hagiographical legends by justifying by genealogical arguments, the particular protection of a saint or his adoption as a substitute ancestor. in their lineages.

Current historians still have great difficulty in distinguishing between imaginary and reality. The historicity of the episodes of the life of these saints thus often remains doubtful because these episodes are found in hagiography as they appear in customs or folklore. The very structure of the narrative of the vitae is found in other Lives of Saints whose authors generally take up “literary conventions of a biblical model which shaped their modes of thought and expression”.

In 2022, around 170 Breton saints are represented, each by a statue, in the Valley of the Saints, in Carnoët.

January 12th is Saint Aofred’s Day

Ælred de Rievaulx was born in early 1110 in Hexham, England. He is the son of one of those married priests who are frequently found in the England of the xie and xie centuries. He lived much of his youth at the court of the King of Scotland, David Ier, where he was raised at the same time as his son, Henry of Northumberland. This period falls within a “religious spring” following the Gregorian reform and the renewal of Western society.

He studied the works of Cicero there, and lived there in the friendship of those around him. Much loved by King David Ier, who wanted to make him a bishop, he nevertheless decided to become a Cistercian monk. In 1133 he entered the abbey of Rievaulx, near York, of Cistercian obedience, daughter of the abbey of Clairvaux. He was soon named master of novices, and we remember him as having an extraordinary tenderness and patience towards those who were in his charge.

In 1143, William, Lord of Lincoln founded a new Cistercian abbey in his stronghold of Reversby, in Lincolnshire, which Ælred and twelve other monks took possession of. His stay, during which he is said to have met Saint Gilbert of Sempringham, would be short-lived, for he was elected Abbot of Rielvaux in 1147. In this position, the saint was not only the superior of a community of 300 monks, but is also the superior of all the Cistercian abbeys in England.

It seems that he exerted a considerable influence on the king of England Henry IIin the early years of his reign, and persuaded him to join the King of France Louis VII to meet the pope Alexander III in Toucy in 1162.

Saint Ælred composes many writings, historical, poetic and religious. He is considered one of the most important representatives of monastic spirituality in the xie century. His works are based on ancient tradition, and on a spirituality of high personal sensitivity in which human friendship leads to the love of God, knowing that“there is no other happiness for the rational creature than to adhere to God. »

He will also write a text first intended for his sister entitled The recluse life and which will inspire a movement of mortification which will spread throughout Europe, particularly in Great Britain, France, and Flanders (current Belgium and the Netherlands). “Recluses” will thus live in small cells pierced with these small openings called hagioscopes which allow them to attend services but also to receive water and food from passers-by.

Ælred is part of what has been called the “second generation” of Cîteaux which includes the first wave of major Cistercian spiritual authors, along with Saint Bernard, Guillaume de Saint-Thierry, and Guerric d’Igny. For these authors, the converted man conforms little by little to Christ, thanks to a spirituality made up of simplicity which refers to the experience of union with God, of communion, by rooting himself in the Scriptures and the Rule of Saint Benedict.

The last four years of his life, he increased his mortifications to the point that his body became extremely thin, according to witnesses at the time. Often he placed himself in a pit dug in the floor of his oratory in which he prayed. He died on January 12, 1167, at the age of fifty-seven.

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Discovering the Breton Saints. January 12th is Saint Aofred’s Day