Saint William of York
The headlines will read A disputed election as the Bishop of York andmysterious death. But there is more to this 11th-century saint relatedto the English throne. Things could get ugly pretty fast, and so it wasfor William of York.
William Fitz Herbert was born in the late 11 century around 1090 inYork, the United Kingdom. His father was Herbert of Winchester, said tobe the treasurer and Chancellor of King Henry 1. Most records gave hismother’s name as Emma, who was a half-sister to King Stephen.
He was well educated and grew up to become a priest.
Positions in the Priesthood
William held administrative positions while in the priesthood. He waschancellor of the Weighton diocese of Yorkshire between 27 June 1109 and27 February 1114.
And between 1114-1143, he was appointed Archdeacon of the East Riding.This position made him a senior ecclesiastical officer of a subdivisionof the diocese of York.
By the year 1130, he became the Treasurer of York. At this point, therewere suggestions in some quarters that William’s appointment into thesepositions at a relatively young age was because of his father’sinfluence.
His father Herbert was a rich and highly connected man, having manylandholdings in Yorkshire.
William served in these positions till his appointment as Archbishop.
Trouble in the Cathedral
William experienced a troubled ecclesiastical career. In some places, itis believed that part of his trouble is because he was closely relatedto the English throne. The monarchy was in a contest between Stephen ofBlois (his uncle) and Empress Matilda. It could be said he was a victimof his heritage and show of power.
Another argument is that his troubles resulted from his family’s allegedbuying of sacred positions (simony) with their influence.
The first sign of trouble for Williams was when he got appointed as theArchbishop of York following the death of the sitting bishop. Hisappointment came in 1141 by the instance of King Stephen in oppositionto the selection of Henry Murdac, a Cistercian monk.
His election was rejected by the local archdeacons and the Cistercianbrothers (monks) of Yorkshire. The Cistercians had accused Williams ofsimony, unchastity, and interference by King Stephen. Archbishop ofCanterbury, Theobald of Bec, refused to recognize him based on theallegations against him pending the appeal sent to the Pope.
More Trouble for William
In 1143, Pope Innocent 11 ruled that Williams would be consecrated if hecould prove that the allegations against him were false and swore anoath to that effect. William proved himself innocent of all the charges,and on 26 September 1143, William was consecrated.
He carried out his duties with humility and introduced manyecclesiastical reforms. This won him the approval of many. But, Williamwas yet to obtain the Pallium, an ecclesiastical investment thatrepresents a sign of authority to the bishop given by the Pope. Sadly,the Pope passed on before Williams could obtain the power.
Pope Eugene 111, a Cistercian, became the new Holy See, andWilliam’s effort to obtain the Pallium was abortive. Prompted by manypetitions from Bernard Clairvaux (abbot) against William in favor ofrival Henry Murdac, the Pope opened a new inquiry to William’sappointment as bishop.
In 1147, William was suspended and deposed by Pope Eugene 111. The Popeconcluded that his appointment of William of st. Barbara, as Dean ofYork, faulted due process. Hence, Henry Murdac was appointed as the newbishop of York.
William stayed with his friend King of Sicily for a while and returnedto Winchester, where he lived a quiet and devout life as a monk. In1153, both Henry Murdac and the Pope passed on.
God’s Wish or Murder?
William appealed to the new Pope Anastasius IV to be restored to hisformer position after following the passing on of Henry Murdac inOctober. On 20 December 1153, the Pope granted his request and investedhim as the Archbishop of York 14 years after his first appointment.
Williams returned to York and showed great kindness to the Cisterciansand all who had opposed him. He was determined to work for the good ofeveryone.
Less than a month after he became the archbishop of York, he suddenlyfell sick while celebrating Mass on a Trinity Sunday. His death occurredon 8 June 1154.
His archdeacon Osbert was suspected of putting poison in the Chalicehe drunk. This accusation was never proved.
Following miracles that erupted at his tomb, Pope Honorius 111 canonizedhim a saint in 1227.
5 Interesting Facts About St. William of York
- He’s on record as twice the Archibishop of York. Journey to that
record was laced with thorn.
- Williams bore hardship and sufferings from others with an unusual
- He was a man who praticed forgiveness. His total acceptance of the
Cistercians is enough proof to that.
- I hope you are aware st. Williams passed through three different
Popes to be the bishop of York? Yes, it was a strenuous journey.
- Do you know any of the miracles recorded at his tomb? They include;
Oil flowing from his grave cured many people of infirmities, Three
dead people were brought back to life, Five blinds were given
their sight, a new sight was restored to a man who had been
unjustly defeated and blinded in a duel. He was a saint of
Prayer to St. Williams of York
St. William, God chose you to be Archbishop of York butwere unjustly accused of sin. Your election was opposed by manyin favor of another. Even through all this, you never took your eyes offof Christ and His will for you. You devoted yourself to a life of prayerand mortification. After many years, you were finally restored to theSee that was rightfully yours. Instead of reserving spite, you showedthe utmost amount of forgiveness and love for those who had beforebeen in opposition to your election. Please help us to follow yourexample of perseverance and forgiveness so that we may forgive ourtransgressors and always persevere in the Lord’s will.Amen.