St. William of Maleval
Also known as William of Malval or Malvalla
Feastday: February 10
Born in France; died at Maleval, Italy, February 10, 1157;
canonized by Innocent III in 1202.
Hermit. A native of France, he led a dissolute early and maritial life but underwent a conversion through a pilgrimage to Rome, where he was forced to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land at the command of Pope Eugenius Ill, . 1145-1153. Upon his return, he lived as a hermit and then became head of a monastery near Pisa. As he failed to bring about serious reforms among the monks there or on Monte Pruno Bruno, he departed and once more took up the life of a hermit near Siena. Attracting a group of followers, the hermits received papal sanction. They later developed into the Hermits of St. William the Gulielmites until absorbed into the Augustinian Canons. In his later years, William was noted for his gifts of prophecy and miracles.
After carefree years of licentious military life, William experienced a conversion of heart
of which we are told nothing. The first real piece of information we have is that the penitent Frenchman made a pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles at Rome. Here he begged Pope Eugenius III for pardon and to set him on a course of penance for his sins. Eugenius enjoined him to make a pilgrimage to the Holy Land in 1145. William followed his counsel and spent eight years on the journey, returning to Italy a changed man.
In 1153, William became a hermit in on the isle of Lupocavio near Pisa in Tuscany for a time. So many joined his until he was prevailed upon to undertake the governance. He wasn't well suited to lead other men. First he failed to maintain discipline at the abbey. Unable to bear the tepidity and irregularity of his monks,
he withdrew to Monte Bruno. But same thing happened when he organized the disciples who had gathered around him into his own abbey on Monte Bruno.
Finally, in September 1155, he realized this was not God's plan for him and he embraced the eremitical life amid the solitude of Maleval then called the Stable of Rhodes near Siena. At Maleval he lived in an underground cave until the lord of Buriano discovered him some months later and built him a cell. For the
first four months, William had only the beasts for company and only forage for food.
The example of his life soon attracted another of like mind. On the Feast of the Epiphany 1156, he was joined by a companion named Albert, who lived with him the rest of his life only 13 months
and recorded William's vita. Like most of the early hermits, William used extreme penances to atone for his earlier sinful life. He slept on the bare ground, ate sparingly of only the coarsest fare, and drank only limited amounts of water. Prayer, contemplation, and manual labor employed all his waking moments.
William had the gift of working miracles and of prophecy. Shortly before William's death, which he predicted, he and Albert were joined by a physician named Rinaldo. The two disciples buried
William in his little garden, and together studied to live according to William's maxims and example. Later their number increased and they built a chapel over their founder's grave with a hermitage; however his relics were dispersed in the wars between Siena and Grosseto.
This was the origin of the Gulielmites, or Hermits of Saint William, which spread throughout Italy, France, Flanders, and Germany. Gregory IX, mitigating their austerities, gave the Rule of
Saint Benedict to the group organized as the Order of Bare- Footed Friars, but they were eventually absorbed by the Augustinian hermits except for 12 houses in the Low Countries.
William is honored in the new Paris Missal and Breviary, where his feast is kept at the Abbey of Blancs-Manteaux, founded in 1257 as a mendicant order, called the Servants of the Virgin Mary, but
bestowed on the Gulielmites after the second council of Lyons in 1297.