St William of York

(England) Bishop (entered heaven this month in 1154)

Dear Bill,

I am not going to try and hide my disappointment.  You know as well as I do that you can’t believe everything you hear.  So for you to go and spread those unfounded, diabolical rumors about your bishop is positively noxious (I’m your uncle; I can be honest).  The true Christian believes only the good he hears, and only the evil he sees.  Maybe the tragic example of today’s saint will help drive this lesson home.

William FitzHerbet was born to nobility in medieval England, but early on showed more interest in God’s Kingdom than worldly politics, and pursued the clerical path.  He was trustworthy, intelligent, humble, and hardworking, and as a result, soon after his ordination he was elected Treasurer of the Metropolitan See in York (northern England).  He won the confidence of the archbishop of the time (Thurston), with whom he worked closely, and after Thurston retired, William was elected to succeed him as archbishop.

Unfortunately, some other important leaders of the city (and the Church) had been hoping that the renowned Cistercian Abbot Henry Murdac would succeed as bishop.  So put out were they by the election of William that some started spreading rumors about his incompetence.  Not only did they say he had finagled the election through his aristocratic connections, but they began falsely accusing him of a whole assortment of lurid sexual escapades.  The case went to Rome, and Pope Innocent cleared him, but before the pallium (the cloth necklace that links metropolitan archbishops with the Pope, bestowed by the Holy Father himself) could arrive, Innocent died, and Eugene III, a Cistercian, was elected to the Holy See.  Eugene withdrew the pallium.

William was forced to go to Rome to plead his innocence, but ended up being deposed anyway.  (It didn’t help that some of his defenders rioted and burned down the nearby Cistercian Abbey in protest of the calumnies).  After the humiliating drama he retired to reside with a friend who was bishop of Winchester, where he spent seven years in prayer, reflection and penance.

Pope Anastasius IV finally recalled him to his post, and he returned to York amid an enthusiastic crowd of the faithful.  (They actually thronged the bridge leading into the city in order to welcome home their exiled prelate, but the bridge couldn’t hold them; it collapsed.  St William immediately prayed to the Lord and made the sign of the cross over the river – miraculously, no one lost their life.)  His tenure as an active Archbishop was cut short by a fever, however, and he died before his first anniversary in the See (some say he was poisoned by his still bitter enemies).

So much misery and injustice – all caused by the spreading of lies.  Far be it from one of my nephews to ever be on the guilty side of such an unchristian exchange, whether as instigator or promulgator.  Humph.

Your loving uncle,


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