Yorkshire is scattered with many ruins of monasteries. They are very popular destinations for tourists from many countries as well as school groups and family outings.
It is natural to admire what is left of the impressive architecture, and to enjoy the peaceful surroundings. It is also good to remember the life of the monks who lived in them when they were thriving.
Some of the larger monasteries belonged to the Cistercian Order of monks who dedicated themselves to prayer and manual work. It is a simple but demanding life which has attracted many over the years.
In Yorkshire the Cistercian monks were especially successful in sheep farming. At a time when wool was in demand, the monasteries and surrounding areas prospered.
As well as building large and beautiful churches the monks invested in health and education, running infirmaries and schools for everyone long before the NHS or state-run education.
One of the most successful Cistercian monasteries was Rievaulx. The area was overgrown and rough, but was given to a group of monks who were seeking more solitude to pray and work.
The first few years were lean, but with relentless faith and hard work the monks stayed and prospered. Many others were attracted to the life and inspired by the zeal, dedication and love for God of the monks.
Next week we celebrate the life of one of the monks, a saint who lived there. He was St Aelred. He was born on 1100s in Hexham and had good prospects working for the king of Scotland.
But he was inspired to join the monks. The life was hard and he was in poor health for much of his life. But he thrived in the monastery and for twenty years he was the abbot, head of the monastery.
The abbot is the leader and father of the community. Despite the austere lifestyle St Aelred was not hardened by it.
He was renowned for his patience and gentleness, particularly towards those who fell short of their rule of life and repented. He was a true father in understanding human weakness, in compassion, in gentleness. It grew out of a strong faith and love of God, he called Jesus a ‘friend’.
St Aelred was a man of great influence in the Church, but in dealing with people he was known to be friendly and down to earth. May he inspire us to treat everyone, including ourselves, with patience and gentleness.