Archbishop joins 900th birthday of Yorkshire saint

Why not follow in the footsteps of the Archbishop of York, with a pilgrimage walk celebrating the 900th anniversary of St Aelred at Rievaulx Abbey in North Yorkshire?

The Archbishop of York visits Rievaulx Abbey

The Archbishop of York, Dr John Sentamu, recently followed in the footsteps of one of Yorkshire’s most famous abbots, St Aelred of Rievaulx, by walking from Helmsley Castle to Rievaulx Abbey as part of the site’s 900th anniversary celebrations of the birth of the saint.

Aelred was born in 1110 at Hexham in Northumberland and raised in the court of King David of Scotland. He became the third abbot of Rievaulx and, under his leadership, the abbey attracted a devoted following and its reputation soared. His writings and spirituality helped spread the philosophy of the Cistercian way of life as a simpler, less materialistic and more egalitarian way of life than its Benedictine counterpart – an order which then had gained a reputation for offering a life of luxury only to those of high birth. He was canonised after his death in 1167.

The Archbishop of York on a pilgrimage in North Yorkshire

To mark the saint’s birth, the Archbishop of York was guided by TV historian, Julian Humphrys, in a two-hour walk between the two English Heritage sites, retracing the route taken by Aelred when he first visited Rievaulx during a trip to Helmsley Castle. During the walk, Julian highlighted how Aelred’s time as abbot left its mark on the surrounding countryside, when Aelred inspired those living in and around the Abbey to create a hub of commerce and industry, with the Abbey’s lands worked hard as both fertile farmland and site of heavy industry for the smelting of iron and other metals – activities which left scars on the landscape still visible today. The walk was followed by a private ceremony at Rievaulx Abbey during which the ruins echoed with the sound of hymns and plainsong. 

If you want to recreate the pilgrimage route yourself, a good time to do so is over May Bank Holiday weekend (2&3 May) when Julian Humphrys will be a guide once again. Or if you can’t make it for the Bank Holiday, why not have a go yourself when you visit North Yorkshire? Allow time for the two-mile walk from Helmsley Castle, and time to explore the Rievaulx Abbey site and its tearoom. You can then return to Helmsley, either retracing your steps, or by taking the Moorsbus.

Julian Humphrys and the Archbishop of York

The Medieval Pilgrimage is just one of a series of events planned for Rievaulx Abbey in 2010 which celebrate the 900th anniversary of the birth of Aelred.

If you want to join Julian Humphrys on the Bank Holiday pilgrimage, book as places are limited, tel: (01439) 770442.

Adults £10 (inc admission to Helmsley Castle and Rievaulx Abbey (discounts for English Heritage members). For more information on the North York Moors National Park and the Moorsbus, go to

Images: Tony Bartholomew.