Saint of the Week – William of Rochester

Stained glass from Rochester Cathedral depicting St. William as a Pilgrim.

Stained glass from Rochester Cathedral depicting St. William as a Pilgrim.

For today’s saint we’re going to head off the beaten path a little bit. As I was looking over ideas for saints to talk about this week I was drawn to today’s story because it was well…crazy. It’s interesting to see what causes someone to become considered a saint and the saint we’re going to spend some time with did not enter sainthood in the normal way one might expect.

Today’s saint is William of Rochester (or Perth).

William was born in Perth, Scotland but the date is unknown. By all accounts he was a wild and troublesome child. However, sometime in his adult life he had a dramatic conversion to Christianity and began to attend church services daily. He worked as a baker and after his conversion he would give every tenth loaf of bread to the poor. One day as William was heading to mass, he came across an infant abandoned outside the church. William adopted the child, named him David and began to teach him to be a baker.

Some time after bringing David into his family, William decided to go on a pilgrimage to visit Christian holy sites including a trip to Jerusalem. William and David packed up and set out on their first leg of the journey which would take them to Rochester, England. After spending a few days in the city they set off for Canterbury. However, for reasons lost to history, David bashed his adoptive father over the head, slit his throat, robbed him of all the valuables he had and left William for dead by the side of the road.

Didn’t see that coming did you? Me neither when I first read the story.

A local woman who was considered “insane” came across William’s body and placed a garland of honeysuckle on the body and then on her head. Reportedly once she place the garland on her head she was cured of her insanity. Local monks saw this as a sign and had William buried at the nearby cathedral. They also erected a shrine to him which became a pilgrimage site to which thousands of medieval pilgrims would travel to.

Because he was murdered on pilgrimage to holy sites, William is considered a martyr. Along with the healing of the insane woman who found his body, many miracles were associated with William after his death and he was considered a saint by the people. William would be officially recognized as a saint in 1256 by Pope Alexander IV. May 23rd is recognized as the feast/memorial day for William and he is considered the patron saint of adopted children.

May we, regardless of past actions, experiences or knowledge remain diligent to help those in need around us. May we see all people as members of God’s family and be willing to welcome them as such. May St. William’s story not serve as a tale of caution and restraint, but as encouragement to serve God and walk out a holy life regardless potential dangers and persecution. May we be encouraged by his example to serve God in spite of where we’ve been or where our life may take us.

More Information:
Saints.SQPN – Saint William of Rochester
Wikipedia – William of Perth
MyCatholicBlog – Saint William of Rochester: Patron Saint of Adopted Children
Rochester Cathedral – History of Rochester Cathedral

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