Saint William of Monte Vergine

Saint William of Montevergine statue at St. Peter's Basilica, Vatican. 1878 domain

William of Vercelli (1085 -1142) was a tenth-century hermit, and almost-accidental founder of an Order, the Congregation of Monte Vergine, also called the ‘Williamites’. He sometimes takes his name from the mountain on which he set up his monastery. Two things we may draw from his hidden life, which ended up shining like the proverbial lamp. (He must have had quite the following at some point, even if now mostly forgotten, for his statue resides in Saint Peter’s Basilica).

First, William discovered his vocation while on pilgrimage to the shrine of Saint James in Compostela, the famous, and now even more famous, pilgrimage route from the south of France, across the Pyrenees, to the west coast of Spain, to the cathedral housing the relics of the great Apostle. We need time ‘away’ from the world to hear the voice of God, deep within our hearts, like the prophet Elijah and the still small voice. A retreat, or a pilgrimage, or a bit of both. Leave the electronics, the music and podcasts and all the rest of it, behind. Second, Frater William was renowned, and criticized, for his severely penitential life – before going on pilgrimage for weeks on end, covering hundreds of miles, he had a blacksmith forge an iron contraption he wore under his tunic, as an extra penance. For most, the blisters, the heat, the fatigue, hunger, thirst, the joint pains, and all the other privations would be more than enough!

I say ‘accidental’ founder, for he went up that mountain in the south of Italy as a solitary hermit, after an attempt to reach Jerusalem, which he had to give up after getting beaten and robbed. But, like Saint Benedict centuries before, others soon followed him, even if some had to depart, William’s way of life was so strict. He chose the narrowest of the narrow ways, just to be sure. Some aspects of the lives of saints are more to be admired than imitated. We should keep in mind that, like the love of a mother or father, what we give up or take on in life should always be motivated by love, which spurs us on to great things, even what in the world’s eyes may seem foolish and absurd. Our ways are not God’s ways, nor our thoughts, His.

As we say in accompanying post, we are not made for this world, but for a far, far greater one and some are given the grace to see that more clearly than others. The pearl of great price is what it’s all about; buy the field. Whatever you put on that field, is secondary. +