ST. WILLIAM was an English priest of eminent sanctity and zeal, and chaplain to king Canutus. In one of the voyages which that prince made from England to Denmark, the zealous servant of God who attended him, was so moved with compassion at the sight of the ignorance, idolatry and superstition under which that nation groaned, that he desired to stay behind to preach Christ, and the pure maxims of the gospel. 1 He gained innumerable souls to God, and was advanced to the episcopal see of Roschild, in the island of Zealand. King Swein contracted an incestuous marriage with a near kinswoman, the daughter of the king of Sweden. The holy pastor endeavoured in vain to remove so pernicious a scandal by remonstrances, and at length proceeded to a sentence of excommunication, which severity brought the king to his duty. The same king having once caused some persons to be put to death without a public or legal trial, the saint met him at the church door the next day, and holding out his pastoral staff, forbade him to enter the house of God till his hands were cleansed from the blood he had unjustly spilled; and seeing some of the courtiers draw their swords, he presented his neck, saying he was ready to die in defence of the church of God. The king, who had always the highest veneration for the holy prelate, entered into himself, bitterly bewailing his sin, and after doing penance and making satisfaction, was conducted into the church by the bishop himself. In this example, whilst we commend the pastor’s zeal, to whom nothing was dear on earth besides God’s honour, we ought not to be less edified with the humble dispositions in which the king received correction. From that time the saint and the penitent concurred, with all their strength, in the most perfect union of hearts, to promote the cause of piety and religion. Upon the death of the king his corpse was conveyed to Roschild, the burial place, and at that time the ordinary residence of the kings of Denmark. St. William is said to have prayed on this occasion that he might not be separated from his friend, and dying at the same time he was interred together with him, and in the same place, in 1067, having passed forty years in Denmark. Baronius in his Annals, and some others, confound him by mistake with St. William, a regular canon of Paris, who was abbot of Eskille in the diocess of Roschild, in the following century, on whom see April 6th, and Hist. Littéraire de la France, t. 9, p. 117. On this holy bishop see Saxo Grammaticus, the learned Danish historian who flourished in the next century, Hist. Daniæ, c. 11, 12; Kransius, Wandaliæ, l. 4, c. 33; Cressy, Ch. Hist. of Brit. b. 34.
Note 1. The Danes were converted to the faith by the preaching of St. Anscharius, and his associates and successors, Ebbo, Withmar, Rembert, &c. Eric I. king of Denmark, was baptized in 826, in the reign of the Emperor Lewis Debonnair. See Joan. Mollerus, (Cimbriæ Litteratæ, t. 3, p. 8.) Ericus Pantoppidanus, (Annales Ecclesiæ Danicæ Diplomatici, t. 1, p. 18,) Dom Rivet, (Hist. Littér. de la France, t. 5, p. 577,) Fabricius, Biblioth. Latina medii ævi, (t. 1, p. 292,) and Luce Evangelii orbi terrarum exoriente, p. 425. King Swein or Sweno II. apostatized; but his successor Knut or Canutus II. surnamed the Great, king of England, carried or sent into Denmark from this island many zealous apostolic missionaries, who re-established that church. See Alford’s Annales Eccl. Angl. (ad an. 1027.) This prince being dead at Shaftsbury in 1040, Magnus obtained the crown of Denmark, and dying in 1043, was succeeded by Swein III. surnamed Estrithius, who died in 1067. See Adam Bremensis Hist. l. 2. Lindenbrogi Scriptores Rerum Septentrionalium, &c. [back]