Today is the feast day of Saint William. Ora pro nobis.
William Berruyer, of the illustrious family of the ancient Counts of Nevers, was educated by Peter the Hermit, Archdeacon of Soissons, his maternal uncle. From his early childhood William learned to despise the folly and emptiness of the world, to abhor its pleasures, and to tremble at its dangers. His only delight was in exercises of piety and his studies, with which he employed his whole time in an untiring application.
He took the habit in the abbey of Pontigny, and was after some time chosen abbot, first of Fontaine-Jean, in the diocese of Sens, and secondly in 1187 of Chalis, near Senlis, a much more numerous monastery, also a filiation of Pontigny, built by Louis the Fat in 1136, a little before his death. William always reputed himself the last among his brethren. The sweetness of his expression testified to the joy and peace that overflowed his soul, and made virtue appear engaging even in the midst of formidable austerities.
On the death of Henri de Sully, Archbishop of Bourges, William was chosen to succeed him. The announcement of this new dignity which had fallen on him overwhelmed him with grief, and he would not have accepted the office had not the Pope and his own Cistercian General, the Abbot of Citeaux, commanded him to do so. His first care in his new position was to conform his life to the most perfect rules of sanctity. He redoubled all his austerities, saying it was incumbent on him now to do penance for others as well as for himself. He always wore a hair shirt under his religious habit, and never added to his clothing in winter or diminished it in summer.
When he drew near his end, he was, at his request, laid on ashes in his hair cloth, and in this posture expired on the 10th of January, 1209. While this holy bishop was laid out for veneration, an infirm young boy who wanted to venerate him, but had to be carried to the church by his mother, was completely cured of his infirmities, and ran about proclaiming the miracle. The stone of his tomb in the Cathedral Church of Bourges cured mortal wounds and illnesses and delivered possessed persons; the deaf and dumb, the blind, the mentally ill became sound. So many miracles occurred there that the monks could not record them all, and he was canonized nine years after his death, in 1218, by Pope Honorius III.
His relics were kept with great veneration till 1562, when they were burnt, and scattered in the winds by the Huguenots, on occasion of their plundering the cathedral of Bourges, as Baillet and Bollandus mention. A bone of his arm is shown with veneration at Chalis, whither it had been sent soon after the saint’s body was taken up; and a rib is preserved in the church of the college of Navarre, at Paris, on which the canons of St. Bourges bestowed it in 1399.
His festival is kept in that church with great solemnity, and by a great concourse of devout persons; St. William being regarded in several parts of France as one of the patrons of the nation, though his name is not mentioned in the Roman Martyrology. The celebrated Countess Maud, his niece, out of veneration for his memory, bestowed certain lands in the Nivernois, on the church of Bourges. Nangi ascribes to him many miracles, and other historians bear testimony to his eminent virtue.
He is a patron saint of the University of Paris.
Image: Saint William of Bourges (6)
Research by Ed Masters, REGINA Staff