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William of Malavalla

(d. 1157)


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(d. 1157),

abbot. Little is known of his life. He seems to have been of French origin and to have been a dissolute soldier as a young adult. He was converted from this way of life, went to visit the Apostles' tombs at Rome, and asked Pope Eugenius III for both a pardon and a penance for his sins. He was told to undertake a pilgrimage to Jerusalem: in 1145 he returned, a changed man.

He became a hermit at Lupocavio (near Pisa), where he was joined by many followers. In 1155 he went in quest of greater solitude to Malavalla, a place of desolate squalor, in Sienese territory, where he lived in a cave. After some months of complete solitude living on herbs and fruit, he was discovered by the local lord who built him a cell above ground. Here he was joined by a disciple called Albert who wrote his Life, describing his hairshirts and manual work, his prayer, contemplation, and prophecy. Another disciple, a doctor called Rinaldo, joined them soon afterwards, but William died. His disciples buried his body in the garden, over which they later built a small church with a hermitage. Albert continued William's regime and his monks were called Gulielmites or Hermits of St William. They subsequently spread into Italy, France, Flanders, and Germany. William was canonized by Innocent III in 1202: his relics were dispersed in the wars between Siena and Grosseto. Feast: 10 February.

AA.SS. Feb. II (1658), 433–91; Vies des saints et des bienheureux, ii. 234–7; H.S.S.C., vi. 273.

Subjects: Christianity — Medieval and Renaissance History (500 to 1500).


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