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William of Montevergine

(1085—1142)


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(1085–1142),

abbot and monastic founder. Born at Vercelli of a noble Lombard family, he was early left an orphan. At the age of fourteen he went on pilgrimage to Compostela. In 1106 he became a hermit at Monte Solicoli (Basilicata), but still unsettled, started a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. After being attacked by robbers he returned. He now resumed the hermit life at Montevergine near Benevento. Here he built a cell and a church. He was joined by disciples whom he formed into a community. The regime was austere: meat, wine, butter, and cheese were forbidden, while on three days each week the only food was vegetables with dry bread. In 1124 the community found the regime too strict and demanded mitigation. This William refused; instead, he appointed a prior who eventually adopted the Rule of St Benedict. William moved elsewhere in search of more complete solitude.

He tried again with a small community at Monte Laceno (Apulia), but physical conditions were too severe. A fire destroyed their huts, so they moved on to Monte Cognato (Basilicata). But once again William appointed a prior and left, this time for Conza (Apulia), where he founded communities of monks and nuns. King Roger II of Naples invited him to Salerno and endowed William's other monasteries. To this period of his life belongs the legend of the prostitute sent from court to seduce him. He received her politely and then parted the coals in his fireplace with his bare hands and invited her to lie down with him among them. He was unscathed, she was converted, his traducers were discomfited.

William is an interesting example of the reformed monasticism of his time with its varied and sometimes incompatible commitment to solitude, austerity, and community life. He died at Golato, but his relics were translated to Montevergine, where a popular cult arose which was confirmed in 1728 and 1785. Montevergine is still a monastery, where a fine painting of the Madonna is the object of popular pilgrimage. Feast: 25 June; translation feast, 2 September.

AA.SS. Iun. V (1744), 112 ff. (critical ed. by G. Mongelli in Samnium, 1960–1); Life by G. Mongelli (1960); B.L.S., vi. 193–5; Bibl. SS., vii. 487–9.

Subjects: Christianity.


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