Abbot and writer. St Ailred was the son of a priest, born in Hexham in 1110. After being educated at Durham he joined the household of David I, king of Scotland as a steward. In 1134 he joined the newly-founded abbey at Rievaulx. In spite of delicate health, he followed the austere Cistercian regime and became so respected in the community that he was sent to Rome as an envoy in 1142, over the disputed election of William of York. Later he became master of novices and in 1143 he became abbot of Revesby in Lincolnshire. Four years later he was recalled to be abbot of Rievaulx.
He was much loved as an abbot and under his rule the community thrived, with 500 lay brothers and 150 choir monks, making it the largest in England.
Ailred was known for his sensitivity and gentle holiness, with a strong emphasis on charity. It was said that he humanised the strict Cistercian monasticism. He had many friends and became a figure of national importance through his writing and preaching. Among his work is a treatise on friendship, lives of the saints of Hexham and sermons on Isaiah.
He died at Rievaulx in 1067 and, though never formally canonised, has been revered ever since. The Cistercians approved of his cult in 1476.
and Blessed James Fenn and Companions
Martyrs. Born in 1540, James Fenn came from Montacute, near Yeovil in Somerset. His brothers John and Robert were both priests. He studied at Corpus Christi College in Oxford where he was known as a fine singer - but he was expelled when he refused to take the oath of supremacy declaring Queen Elizabeth head of the Church. He subsequently became a schoolteacher, married, and had two children.
When his wife died suddenly, James resolved to consecrate the remainder of his life to God in the priesthood. Following his ordination in Reims, France, Father Fenn returned to England in 1580 serving the community in Somerset and other parts of the country. After having persuaded many to return to the Catholic faith, he was captured by the Elizabethan authorities. During his two-year-long imprisonment, Father Fenn spiritually ministered to those incarcerated with him, especially pirates and other criminals sentenced to death. The conversions he wrought included a notorious felon.
On February 7, 1584, Fr Fenn was condemned to death by being hung, drawn and quartered, for being a priest. Five days later, as he was about to be dragged on a hurdle to his execution, his young daughter Francis ran to him. The martyr gave the weeping child his paternal and priestly blessing before parting from her.
Blessed James Fenn was martyred at Tyburn together with four other young priests: Blesseds George Haydock, John Munden, John Nutter and Thomas Hemerford. They were beatified in 1929.