The Williamites were founded in 1158 around the tomb of Saint William of Malevalle (or Maleval - “the evil valley”) in the province of Grosseto within Tuscany, northern Italy.
From 1158 onwards, additional Williamite communities formed, and their members became known for their austerity and their attachment to the eremitical (hermit) way of life.
They soon had communities in Italy, northern France, Belgium, Bohemia and Hungary, and lived according to the Rule of Saint Benedict.
They were summoned by Pope Alexander IV to be part of the Grand Union of the Augustinian Order
in April 1256.
Months after the Grand Union, however, the Williamites in Italy were permitted to separate from the Augustinian Order, and returned to their previous identity.
When this happened their houses in Hungary, most of their houses in Germany and a few in Bohemia remained within the Order of Saint Augustine. (More details are presented on the next page
And who was this Saint William? The account of his life, written by his disciple Albert, who lived with him during his last year at Maleval, has been lost. Written accounts of his life by Theodobald, or Thibault, given by the Bollandists, is unreliable because it has been interpolated with the lives of at least two other Williams. There are a number of chapters by Theobald in which he is confused with St William of Gellone, Duke of Aquitaine.
The early years of the life of St William is uncertain. He was French by birth, and it is suggested he came from a noble family. It is often said that he had a wild and dissolute life as a soldier in his youth. Wishing to change his evil life, he is said to have gone on pilgrimage to Rome, where he had an interview with Pope Eugene III, who ordered him to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to Santiago di Compostella as penance for his sins.
Although Theodobald's account of his interview with the pope does not carry conviction, the fact of this visit to the Pope and at least his subsequent pilgrimage to Jerusalem are supported by excerpts from other documents.
He seems to have remained at Jerusalem for one or two years, and not for nine years as Theodobald stated. About 1153 he returned to Italy and led a hermit's life in a wood near Pisa; there is an unsubstantiated tradition that he stayed at the site later known as the hermitage of S. Giorgio della Spelonca. There are different traditions and legends, and even one about his slaying a dragon, similar to St George.
Finally in 1155 he settled in the valley of Stabulum Rodis, later known as Malevalle. There he was joined by Albert, who became his disciple and biographer.
William spent his years at Malevalle in prayer, silence, and severe acts of the denial of self (mortification), and fasting.
For Augnet's pages on the subsequent Hermitage of St William at Malevalle, click here.
(Continued on the next page.)