St. William of Maleval, Hermit, and Institutor of the Order of Gulielmites
From l’Hist. des Ordres Relig. t. 6. p. 155. by F. Helyot.
WE know nothing of the birth or quality of this saint: he seems to have been a Frenchman, and is on this account honoured in the new Paris Missal and Breviary. He is thought to have passed his youth in the army, and to have given into a licentious manner of living, too common among persons of that profession. The first accounts we have of him represent him as an holy penitent, filled with the greatest sentiments of compunction and fervour, and making a pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles at Rome. Here he begged Pope Eugenius III. to put him into a course of penance, who enjoined him a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the year 1145. In performing this, with great devotion, the saint spent eight years. Returning into Tuscany in 1153, he retired into a desert. He was prevailed upon to undertake the government of a monastery in the Isle of Lupocavio, in the territory of Pisa: but not being able to bear with the tepidity and irregularity of his monks, he withdrew and settled on Mount Pruno, till finding disciples there no less indocile to the severity of his discipline than the former, he was determined to pursue himself that rigorous plan of life which he had hitherto unsuccessfully proposed to others. He pitched upon a desolate valley for this purpose, the very sight of which was sufficient to strike the most resolute with horror. It was then called the Stable of Rhodes, but since, Maleval; and is situated in the territory of Sienna, in the diocess of Grosseto. He entered this frightful solitude in September, 1155, and had no other lodging than a cave in the ground, till being discovered some months after, the lord of Buriano built him a cell. During the first four months, he had no other company but that of wild beasts, eating only the herbs on which they fed. On the feast of the Epiphany, in the beginning of the year 1156, he was joined by a disciple or companion, called Albert, who lived with him to his death, which happened thirteen months after, and who has recorded the last circumstances of his life. The saint in his discourses with others, always treated himself as the most infamous of criminals, and deserving the worst of deaths; and that these were his real sentiments, appeared from that extreme severity which he exercised upon himself. He lay on the bare ground: though he fed on the coarsest fare and drank nothing but water, he was very sparing in the use of each; saying, sensuality was to be feared even in the most ordinary food. Prayer, divine contemplation, and manual labour, employed his whole time. It was at his work that he instructed his disciple in his maxims of penance and perfection, which he taught him the most effectually by his own example, though in many respects so much raised above the common, that it was fitter to be admired than imitated. He had the gift of miracles, and that of prophecy. Seeing his end draw near, he received the sacraments from a priest of the neighbouring town of Chatillon, and died on the 10th of February, in 1157, on which day he is named in the Roman and other Martyrologies.
Divine Providence moved one Renauld, a physician, to join Albert, a little before the death of the saint. They buried St. William’s body in his little garden, and studied to live according to his maxims and example. Some time after, their number increasing, they built a chapel over their founder’s grave, with a little hermitage. This was the origin of the Gulielmites, or Hermits of St. William, spread in the next age over Italy, France, Flanders, and Germany. They went barefoot, and their fasts were almost continual: but Pope Gregory IX. mitigated their austerities, and gave them the rule of St. Benedict, which they still observe. The Order is now become a congregation united to the hermits of St. Austin, except twelve houses in the Low Countries, which still retain the rule of the Gulielmites, which is that of St. Benedict, with a white habit like that of the Cistercians.
The feast of St. William is kept at Paris in the abbey of Blancs-Manteaux, so called from certain religious men for whom it was founded, who wore white cloaks, and were of a mendicant order, called of the Servants of the Virgin Mary; founded at Marseilles, and approved by Alexander IV. in 1257. This order being extinguished, by virtue of the decree of the second council of Lyons, in 1274, by which all mendicants, except the four great Orders of Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Austin Friars, were abolished, this monastery was bestowed on the Gulielmites, who removed hither from Montrouge near Paris, in 1297. The prior and monks embraced the Order of St. Bennet, and the reformation of the Congregation of St. Vanne of Verdun, soon after called in France, of St. Maur, in 1618, and this is in order the fifth house of that Congregation in France, before the abbeys of St. Germain-des-Prez, and St. Denys.
Note 1. Villefore confounds this saint with St. William, founder of the hermits of Monte Virgine in the kingdom of Naples, who lived in great repute with King Roger, and is commemorated in the Roman Martyrology, June 25. Others confound him with St. William, duke of Aquitain, a monk of Gellone. He was a great general, and often vanquished the Saracens who invaded Languedoc. In recompense, Charlemagne made him duke or governor of Aquitain, and appointed Toulouse for his residence. Some years after, in 806, having obtained the consent of his duchess, (who also renounced the world,) and of Charlemagne, though with great difficulty, he made his monastic profession at Gellone, a monastery which he had founded in a valley of that name, a league distant from Aniane, in the diocess of Lodeve. St. William received the habit at the hands of St. Benedict of Aniane, was directed by him in the exercises of a religious life, and sanctified himself, with great fervour, embracing the most humbling and laborious employments, and practising extraordinary austerities, till his happy death in 812, on the 28th of May, on which day his festival is kept in the monastery of Gellone, (now called St. Guillem du Desert, founded by this saint in 804,) and in the neighbouring churches. See, on him, Mabillon, Sæc. Ben. 4. p. 88. Henschenius, diss. p. 448. Bulteau, p. 367, and Hist. Gen. du Languedoc par deux Bénédictins, l. 9. Many also have confounded our saint with William the last duke of Guienne, who, after a licentious youth, and having been an abettor of the anti-pope, Peter Leonis, was wonderfully converted by Saint Bernard, sent to him by Pope Innocent II. in the year 1135. The year following he renounced his estates, which his eldest daughter brought in marriage to Lewis the Young, king of France; and clothed with hair-cloth next his skin, and in a tattered garment expressive of the sincerity of his repentance and contrition, undertook a pilgrimage to Compostello, and died in that journey, in 1137. See Ordericus Vitalis, Hist. Norman. et Arnoldus Bonæ-Vallis, in vita Bernardi; with the Historical Dissert. of Henschenius, on the 10th of February; and Abrégé Chronol. des Grands Fiefs, p. 223. [back]
Butler’s Lives of the Saints