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Montevergine, Italy (May 25, 1124)


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MontevergineMontevergine is 60 km from Naples, 40 from Salerno and from 35 from Benevento. It is located in the mountains now called "Partenio", but at different times has been called "the mountain of Cybele", "Mount Virgil or Vergil", "Mount Virgin." Its origin is due to the work of St. William of Vercelli, who lived in the years 1085-1142.

Those very calamitous times, both for the Church and for civil society; the "struggle for investiture," the wars against the Normans in southern Italy for the domain, and shipments for the reconquest of the Holy Land, with the first Crusades. Among the big players in these historical events, all heroically tireless, we remember St. Peter Damian, St. Gregory VII, Saint Anselm of Aosta, Saint Bernard of Clairvaux, Peter the Hermit, and many others.

Against this political background and religious struggle in this environment for the sacred cause of liberation of the Holy Sepulchre from Moslem control, in Vercelli about the year 1085, William was born of a noble and pious family. Orphaned of both parents, after 15 years in the monastic habit, but feeling strongly inclined to wander to the most famous shrines in Christendom, he undertook the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compostela, visiting various shrines while helping foreign children. After a few years he returned to Italy with the burning desire to go on pilgrimage to Jerusalem. But in order to prepare well, intellectually and spiritually, he stopped in solitude for some time at Melfi, and then longer, on the mountain at Atella Serum, where he performed the miracle of restoring sight to a blind man.

The fame of holiness that he won with his penitential life, brought him praise and admiration, thereby giving great struggle to his humility, so he decided to take the pilgrim's staff and continuing his journey to Jerusalem. Along the way to Brindisi, where he was going to sail at a time to Palestine, stopped in Ginosa for a brief visit to St. John of Matera, and he founded the monastery there. The holy abbot, inspired by God, told William that the Lord did not want him in the East, but in the West where he can do a greater good. Despite his esteem and friendship, William did not accept the advice of the saint, and resumed the journey.

A few days later, however, near Oria he ran into some thieves who cruelly beat up. Under that difficulty, William clearly understood that that God's plans for him and his work were different from those he was dreaming about, so he walked toward Jerusalem and returned to Ginosa. An intimate conversation with God helped him to see an outline of the new path that the Lord has marked out for him. He crossed the Lucania and came in sight of Montevergine and felt that the Lord wanted him on that mountain to ignite a beacon of life and faith.

"On that high mountain, at 1270 meters above the sea in a small valley created by the meeting of two opposite slopes of the mountains, had built a small cell, and there remained only for a year completely alone, totally dedicated to highest contemplation, in contact with bears and wolves, but they dare not bring him any harm. "(1)

Soon the fame of William's sanctity spread and reached the first disciple who is also the first witness and the first source of information on the life of the saint. And after the first, other disciples ask to live in solitude according to the example of William. To all the Holy Spirit gives as a rule of life "Prayer and Work", a summary of the rule of St. Benedict. Then with the growth of the community, the need to build a church on the mountain where they could celebrate the praises of God and perfrom sacred functions. During one of his meditations, the Virgin appeared to the saint, urging him to erect a shrine on the site where the cult of Cybele was first practiced.

"An ancient tradition says that the consecration of the first church in Montevergine had occurred at Pentecost in 1124, which that year fell on May 25." (1)

St. William, always eager for solitude, began other monasteries in Southern Italy and ended his life in the monastery of San Salvatore of Goleto, in the territory of Sant'Angelo dei Lombardi (AV), in 1142.

Those who enter today in the Basilica-Cathedral remains entranced by the large icon of Our Lady, more than twice actual height.

The Virgin, in a regal pose, sat enthroned between angels, and pointed to the Infant Jesus on her lap, according to the Eastern model, that is that the Madonna is the Way to Jesus. The origin of this great icon is still shrouded in mystery.

The centuries-old tradition to indicate, at least for the oval of the face, as a gift of the Empress Eudoxia, venerated at Antioch, then to Constantinople, and finally arrived in Italy as booty from the Crusades.

Of course, after more than eight centuries, countless ranks of the faithful go up every year to the shrine to worship the Virgin, to offer their prayers to you and thanks for the many graces received.

Don Mario Morra SDB
Review "Mary Help of Christians", May 2005

St. William of Montevergine (of Vercelli) Abate

St William of MontevergineFeast Day: June 25

Life: Vercelli, 1085 - Goleto, Nusco, June 24, 1142

Patronage: Irpinia

Etymology: protector, from the German

Emblem: Pastoral Staff, wolf

A nobleman, who became a monk, decided to go to Palestine. Along the way he stopped in Irpinia, where he founded the Benedictine Congregation of Montevergine. Feeling the need for solitude, he appointed his successor to the congregation, and then left to found other monasteries, including that of San Salvatore, divided into two parts, for both men and women religious. His tireless work led him still farther to the Rocca San Felice, Foggia and Troia. The ideal of the ascetic life he proposed, essentially linked to the Benedictine Rule, was part of the spiritual movement that sought the purest Rule and gave more space for prayer and contemplation.

His statue in St. Peter's in Rome has a wolf crouching at his feet, in remembrance of a miracle attributed to him by tradition. When he lived as a hermit in the mountains, his donkey which was his major means of transportation was mauled by a wolf.Tthen William miraculously transformed it into a docile beast of burden. William's parents are unknown, probably noblemen. We he was 15, he was already a monk and a pilgrim on the road. He walked for months and years. He went to St. James of Compostella, to Rome, then you start to Puglia: want to embark for the Holy Land. But first a deter future saint, John of Matera, whom he met in Ginosa (Taranto), and then ran into some robbers at Oria (Brindisi) who beat him savagely when they were disappointed because from his pockets empty. "It is there that the Lord wants you," he told John. And he, after indecision and proofs, finally settling foot for the long journey to Montevergine in the Apennines, near Avellino. The land was full of bears and wolves, where he lived alone for a year.

Then came other men (and some priests) who were drawn to the life of a hermit and who formed a community around him. But then the pilgrims arrived, the "faithful" to which we must preach and administer the sacraments. The church was consecrated in 1124. William adopted the Benedictine Rule with the marked accentuation of a hermit, but also needed the pastoral activity, a "cure of souls."

In 1128 he entrusted the future of the community to Blessed Alberto and went to settle in the mountain Cognato Lucania, where he soon founded a monastery, and when it is well established here that William again stopped at Goleto. Here for a year, in the shade of a giant tree, he founded a monastery here also. A double community for men and women was formed, each with their own home and church.

The South of Italy "adopted" this fondly Piedmont. Other monasteries he raised up in Puglia and Irpinia: "many", says his first biography of the twelfth century. This was the beginning of what is called the Benedictine Congregation of Montevergine, and something that would have life for many centuries. In 1879, it would merge with the Benedictine Congregation.

William died in the monastery of Goleto, and in his community at once began to venerate him as a saint. Some bishops also authorized public worship, which was then be extended to the whole Church in 1785. His body was shifted in 1807 from Goleto to Montevergine, where he remains today. The same monastery, for the duration of World War II, became the secret and secure hideout of the Holy Shroud of Turin.

Author: Dominic Agasso
Source: Christian Family


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