Today is the feast day of Saint William of Vercelli. Ora pro nobis.
Saint William of Monte Vergine, was born in Vercelli, a city of Lombardy. He lost his father and mother in his infancy and was brought up by a relative. At fifteen years of age, he left his native region and made a long and austere pilgrimage to the St James of Compostella. Not content with the ordinary hardships of such a pilgrimage, he encircled his body with iron bands to increase his suffering. He next planned a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, but God made known to him that he was calling him to a solitary life. He retired into the kingdom of Naples. There he chose for his abode an uninhabited mountain, and lived in perpetual contemplation. Soon a monastery was built, and by 1119, the Congregation of Monte Vergine was founded. This site is between Nola and Benevento in the same kingdom of Naples.
These sons of Our Lady lived in great austerity. Seeing the progress in holiness of the good religious being formed there, the devil sowed division and criticism. God drew good from the evil when Saint William went elsewhere and founded several more monasteries, both for men and women, in various places in the kingdom of Naples. There is evidence of heavenly support for the austerities of William’s rule. For example, William did not permit the order to eat meat, eggs, milk, or cheese. If someone tried to violate this regulation, storm clouds would appear in the sky and the lightning would destroy the illicit foodstuff that had been brought into the monastery.
He assisted the king of Naples, to practice all the Christian virtues of a worthy sovereign, and the king in gratitude had a house of the Order built at Salerno opposite his palace, to have him near him more often.
Saint William died of natural causes on June 25, 1142 at the Guglielmo monastery near Nusco, Italy, where he was buried. Church tradition holds that William predicted the date and time of his death, and went to meet his Maker with peace and joy. At the time of his death, he had not yet written a Rule for his religious to govern their affairs. His successor, fearing the dissolution of a community without constitutions, placed them under the Rule of Saint Benedict. The community, which continues to exist today, now belongs to the Benedictine congregation of Subiaco, and has a much venerated picture of our Lady of Constantinople, to which pilgrimages are frequently made by the faithful. While Benedictine monks generally wear black robes, the monks who reside at Monte Vergine today continue to wear the white robes of the Williamites in honor of this holy man.
Photo: Crop of Statue in Saint Peter’s in Rome, Location in Left Transept West (1,7)