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St Giulio's Isle, Lake Orta
William of Volpiano

962-1031 Now there was a clever and active man! Born on the island in the midst of conflict, during the siege of 962 pressed by the Emperor Otto, William was King Arduino’s nephew and had as godparents the victors of the siege themselves: the Emperor Otto, who raised the babe in his right hand and gave him the name William, and Otto’s wife, Adelaide.

William was the fourth son born to Perinzia, of noble Longobard family, and her husband, Roberto, Lord of Volpiano. He had elder brothers and was entered in the monastery of Lucedio when he was just seven years old. A bright scholar and a hard worker, he made excellent progress in his profession but when a young man he refused a deaconship because he had no intention of pledging fealty to the Bishop-Prince 

 Instead the visiting Abbot of Cluny, who recognised a bright lad when he saw one (and was anyway related to his mother ) took William away from Italy and back with him to Cluny.

There, William’s career really took off. He was appointed Abbot of  the great monastery of Saint Benigne, in Dijon; he travelled over France and Italy, reforming forty flagging monasteries, inspiring the monks and reorganising their way of living, besides founding other monasteries. One of these, at least, Fruttuaria, not far from Turin and built on his family’s land, included both monks and nuns (“fratres et sorores”).

William was not only used to dealing with kings, popes and emperors but was also a very learned and accomplished man. He was a fine musician and brought the art of psalmody to heights previously unknown, putting the sweetest melodies to ancient psalms. A charismatic preacher who could move crowds to tears, he was also a philosopher, an architect – his the design of the magnificent Rotonde of Saint Benigne, so sadly destroyed, and it is believed that the island bell-tower (unfortunately subjected in recent years to an incolt and aesthetically damaging restauration) is among his many works.

Not content with reforming religious orders, he also reformed monastic architecture, calling Lombard masons and craftsmen to France and introducing the Romanesque style via Bourgogne

It was the end of the first millennium, a date which Christians approached with trepidation and dread. Only  a strong and fearless man like William could inspire more temerary souls to step with faith into the new era. William died in Normandy 1st January, 1031. He was 68 years old and his monastic order numbered forty monasteries with more than 1200 monks.

To Visit

ON THE ISLAND:
the BELL TOWER and in the
Basilica,  the figure on the front of the ambo which many believe to represent William.

(from The Virtual History of Isola San Giulio, by Gabriel Griffin)

 

 


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