Butler’s Lives of the Saints – Saint William of Maleval, Hermit, and Institutor of the Order of Gulielmites

Article

A.D. 1157.

We know nothing of the birth or quality of this saint: he seems to have been a Frenchman, and is on this account honoured in the new Paris Missal and Breviary. He is thought to have passed his youth in the army, and to have given into a licentious manner of living, too common among persons of that profession. The first accounts we have of him represent him as an holy penitent, filled with the greatest sentiments of compunction and fervour, and making a pilgrimage to the tombs of the apostles at Rome. Here he begged Pope Eugenius III. to put him into a course of penance, who enjoined him a pilgrimage to Jerusalem in the year 1145. In performing this, with great devotion, the saint spent eight years. Returning into Tuscany in 1153, he retired into a desert. He was prevailed upon to undertake the government of a monastery in the Isle of Lupocavio, in the territory of Pisa: but not being able to bear with the tepidity and irregularity of his monks, he withdrew and settled on Mount Pruno, till finding disciples there no less indocile to the severity of his discipline than the former, he was determined to pursue himself that rigorous plan of life which he had hitherto unsuccessfully proposed to others. He pitched upon a desolate valley for this purpose, the very sight of which was sufficient to strike the most resolute with horror. It was then called the Stable of Rhodes, but since, Maleval; and is situated in the territory of Sienna, in the diocess of Grosseto. He entered this frightful solitude in September, 1155, and had no other lodging than a cave in the ground, till being discovered some months after, the lord of Buriano built him a cell. During the first four months, he had no other company but that of wild beasts, eating only the herbs on which they fed. On the feast of the Epiphany, in the beginning of the year 1156, he was joined by a disciple or companion, called Albert, who lived with him to his death, which happened thirteen months after, and who has recorded the last circumstances of his life. The saint in his discourses with others, always treated himself as the most infamous of criminals, and deserving the worst of deaths; and that these were his real sentiments, appeared from that extreme severity which he exercised upon himself. He lay on the bare ground: though he fed on the coarsest fare and drank nothing but water, he was very sparing in the use of each; saying, sensuality was to be feared even in the most ordinary food. Prayer, divine contemplation, and manual labour, employed his whole time. It was at his work that he instructed his disciple in his maxims of penance and perfection, which he taught him the most effectually by his own example, though in many respects so much raised above the common, that it was fitter to be admired than imitated. He had the gift of miracles, and that of prophecy. Seeing his end draw near, he received the sacraments from a priest of the neighbouring town of Chatillon, and died on the 10th of February, in 1157, on which day he is named in the Roman and other Martyrologies.

Divine Providence moved one Renauld, a physician, to join Albert, a little before the death of the saint. They buried Saint William’s body in his little garden, and studied to live according to his maxims and example. Some time after, their number increasing, they built a chapel over their founder’s grave, with a little hermitage. This was the origin of the Gulielmites, or Hermits of Saint William, spread in the next age over Italy, France, Flanders, and Germany. They went barefoot, and their fasts were almost continual: but Pope Gregory IX. mitigated their austerities, and gave them the rule of Saint Benedict, which they still observe. The Order is now become a congregation united to the hermits of Saint Austin, except twelve houses in the Low Countries, which still retain the rule of the Gulielmites, which is that of Saint Benedict, with a white habit like that of the Cistercians.

The feast of Saint William is kept at Paris in the abbey of Blancs-Manteaux, so called from certain religious men for whom it was founded, who wore white cloaks, and were of a mendicant order, called of the Servants of the Virgin Mary; founded at Marseilles, and approved by Alexander IV. in 1257. This order being extinguished, by virtue of the decree of the second council of Lyons, in 1274, by which all mendicants, except the four great Orders of Dominicans, Franciscans, Carmelites, and Austin Friars, were abolished, this monastery was bestowed on the Gulielmites, who removed hither from Montrouge near Paris, in 1297. The prior and monks embraced the Order of Saint Bennet, and the reformation of the Congregation of Saint Vanne of Verdun, soon after called in France, of Saint Maur, in 1618, and this is in order the fifth house of that Congregation in France, before the abbeys of Saint Germain-des-Prez, and Saint Denys.

MLA Citation

  • Father Alban Butler. “Saint William of Maleval, Hermit, and Institutor of the Order of Gulielmites”. Lives of the Fathers, Martyrs, and Principal Saints, 1866. Saints.SQPN.com. 9 February 2013. Web. 26 July 2014. <>