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Williamites

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Williamites. There were two minor religious orders or congregations of this name: (I) a Benedictine congregation, more often known by the name of its chief house, Monte Vergine (2) the foundations named after St. William of Maleval.

Besides Monte Vergine, St. William of Vercelli founded a considerable number of monasteries, especially in the Kingdom of Naples, including a double monastery for men and women at Guglieto (near Nusco). Celestine III confirmed the congregation by a Bull (November 4, 1197). In 1611 there were twenty-six larger and nineteen smaller Williamite houses. Benedict XIV confirmed new constitutions in 1741 to be added to the declarations on the Rule of St. Benedict prescribed by Clement VIII. The motherhouse, the only surviving member of the congregation, was affiliated to the Casinese Congregation of the Primitive Observance in 1879. The community at Monte Vergine retains the white color of the habit, which is in other respects like that of the black Benedictines. There are said to have been some fifty Williamite nunneries, of which only two survived at the beginning of the eighteenth century. The habit was white with a black veil, and their rule very severe in the matter of fasting and abstinence.

This second congregation was founded by Albert, companion and biographer of St. William of Maleval, and Renaldus, a physician who had settled at Maleval shortly before the saint’s death, and was called the Hermits of St. William. It followed the practice of that saint, and quickly spread over Italy, Germany, France, Flanders, and Hungary. The great austerity of the rule was mitigated by Gregory IX in 1229; at the same time many of the monasteries adopted the Benedictine Rule and others that of St. Augustine. When, in 1256, Alexander IV founded the Hermits of St. Augustine many of the Williamites refused to enter the union and were permitted to exist as a separate body under the Benedictine Rule. In 1435 the order, which about this time numbered fifty-four monasteries in three provinces of Tuscany, Germany, and France, received from the Council of Basle the confirmation of its privileges. The Italian monasteries suffered during the wars in Italy. The last two French houses at Cambrai and Ypres were suppressed by the Congregation of Regulars, while in Germany the greater number came to an end at the Revolution. The chief house at Grevenbroich (founded in 1281) was united to the Cistercians in 1628; the last German house ceased to exist in 1785. The habit was similar to that of the Cistercians.

See also St. William of Maleval; Hermits of St. Augustine.

RAYMUND WEBSTER


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