The next few Augnet pages provide the history of groups that participated in the Grand Union:
* The Williamites – the Order of Saint William the Hermit: motherhouse in Malevale near Siena.
* The Augustinian Hermits of Tuscany (formed at the Little Union of 1244)
* Gianboniti, Boniti - The Order of Hermits of Brother John the Good: with their motherhouse in Butrioli near Cesana.
* Brettini – The Hermits of Brettino: in the diocese of Fano and in the March of Ancona.
* Smaller groups
The Williamites were founded in 1158 around the tomb of Saint William of Malavalle (or Maleval - “the evil valley”) in the province of Grosseto within Tuscany, northern Italy. From 1158 onwards, additional Williamite communities formed, and their members became known for their austerity and their attachment to the eremitical (hermit) way of life. They soon had communities in Italy, northern France, Belgium, Bohemia and Hungary, and lived according to the Rule of Saint Benedict.
They were summoned by Pope Alexander IV to be part of the Grand Union of the Augustinian Order in April 1256. Months after the Grand Union, however, the Williamites in Italy were permitted to separate from the Augustinian Order and return to their previous identity. When this happened their houses in Hungary, most of their houses in Germany and a few in Bohemia remained within the Order of Saint Augustine. And who was this Saint William? The account of his life, written by his disciple Albert who lived with him during his last year at Maleval, has been lost. Written accounts of his life by Theodobald, or Thibault, given by the Bollandists, is unreliable because it has been interpolated with the lives of at least two other Williams. There are a number of chapters by Theobald in which William of Malavalle is confused with St William of Gellone, Duke of Aquitaine.
The early years of the life of St William is uncertain. He was French by birth, and it is suggested he came from a noble family. It is often said that he had a wild and dissolute life as a soldier in his youth. Wishing to change his evil life, he is said to have gone on pilgrimage to Rome, where he had an interview with Pope Eugene III, who ordered him to make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and to Santiago di Compostella as penance for his sins. Although Theodobald's account of his interview with the pope does not carry conviction, the fact of this visit to the Pope and at least his subsequent pilgrimage to Jerusalem are supported by excerpts from other documents.
He seems to have remained at Jerusalem for one or two years, and not for nine years as Theodobald stated. About 1153 he returned to Italy and led a hermit's life in a wood near Pisa; there is an unsubstantiated tradition that he stayed at the site later known as the hermitage of S. Giorgio della Spelonca. There are different traditions and legends, and even one about his slaying a dragon, similar to St George. Finally in 1155 he settled in the valley of Stabulum Rodis, later known as Malevalle. There he was joined by Albert, who became his disciple and biographer. William spent his years at Malevalle in prayer, silence, and severe acts of the denial of self (mortification), and fasting. For Augnet's pages on the subsequent Hermitage of St William at Malevalle, click here.
The various Williamite communities were virtually autonomous, and had no central government. In about 1237, Pope Gregory IX had intervened to insist that all Williamite houses at least all adopt the Rule of Saint Benedict, but apparently with limited success. In 1250, Pope Innocent IV wrote to deplore the conduct of some Williamites in Germany. There the Williamites had difficulty when members of the order had left their convento and formed separate "rival" houses without permission. Differences in opinion within Williamite communities in 1251 led their foundations in the Italian diocese of Pesaro to join the Augustinian Order of Hermits in Tuscany (founded by the Little Union of 1244, with Cardinal Richard Annibaldi appointed by the pope as their "supervisor and legal guide" ever since 1244). Here was a religious order that was divided and loosely controlled. It needed organisation and reform.
In 1256 it was to some extent an act of papal wishful thinking that, like the former Williamites of Pesaro, the rest of the Williamite communities would blend in with the Augustinians in Tuscany. It certainly would have simplified the religious landscape in Tuscany for the authoritarian Cardinal Richard Annibaldi if the remaining Williamite houses had become Augustinian. But it was not to be, as explained in the first paragraph (above) on the Williamites. Immediately after the Grand Union of 1256 there was disagreement among Williamite communities as to their future direction. The Williamites in Tuscany used much effort to withdraw from the Grand Union. The decisions of the Grand Union of 1256 deprived the Williamites not only of their former mode of life but also of their name and habit, and their following of the Rule of St Benedict.
The Williamites bitterly resented the changes imposed upon them and, although Cardinal Richard Annibaldi had reported to the pope of unanimous consent achieved at the Grand Union, the Williamites claimed that they had not agreed to the Grand Union but had opposed it. As soon as their delegates returned, they bent every effort to regain their former independence and succeeded in the same year. They based their protest on the old and approved principle that a monk can change from his Order only to one of stricter observance, but not to a milder form.
While this legal reason did not seem conclusive in their case, since Pope Gregory IX had greatly mitigated their austerity, its general correctness could not be denied. Certain compromises had to be made at the Grand Union in order to satisfy all groups. An added reason for the separation seems to have been a question of poverty. The Williamites accustomed to the Benedictine form of self-sustenance and, therefore, opposed to alms-begging, were threatened with serious losses because Licet Ecclesiae, the papal bull that had convoked the Augustinian Grand Union, demanded absolute poverty according to the Franciscan ideal.
Thus Duke Ulrich III of Carinthia withdrew in October 1256 his former bequests to the Williamites in Windischgratz, because through their transmutation into the Augustinian Order, they were no longer permitted to have such possessions. As a result of their strenuous protests, the Williamites on 22nd August 1256 obtained papal permission to retain their use of the Rule of Saint Benedict - only six months after the Grand Union.
Although Cardinal Richard Annibaldi was thus frustrated in his determination to have the Williamites in Tuscany remain within the Augustinian Order, he was successful elsewhere. About twenty Williamite communities in Central Europe and Hungary stayed with the Order of Saint Augustine. This gave the Order an impetus and an immediate presence in these areas beyond the Alps. This settlement, under the direction of Annibaldi, took a decade to finalise, and received papal approval on 10 August 1266. So that the allocation of the Williamite houses to either the Order of Saint Augustine or a revived Williamite Order could not flare up subsequently, Annibaldi threatened both orders with canonical penalties and heavy fines if they ever raised the matter again with Rome. The Williamites wanted to preserve their custom of holding their property in common, thus not obliging themselves to complete poverty and begging; the latter goals were what the Augustinians and other mendicant orders aspired to.
Annibaldi had indicated the preference of the Roman Curia for the mendicant orders dedicated to the pastoral ministry and to other forms of public apostolate, as compared to the followers of the eremitical (hermit) ideal, which was the way of life that the majority of Williamite communities had chosen to retain. As a separate religious order subsequently, the Williamites survived the Protestant Reformation only with difficulty, and finally ceased to exist at the time of secularization at the beginning of the nineteenth century.
(Continued on the next page)
Links to Malavalle (photos sbove)
Photos of the site. Worth a look. http://www.flickr.com/photos/matteo6359/4907607853/in/photostream and http://www.flickr.com/photos/matteo6359/4906486939
San Guglielmo e ... l'Abbazia di Malavalle (GR). Written in Italian, with good photos. http://www.abbazie.com/sanguglielmo/mappa_it.html
Eremo di San Guglielmo a Malavalle. Written in Italian, with good photos. http://www.castellitoscani.com/italian/malavalle.htm
A hike to a hidden hermitage: San Guglielmo a Malavalle. Hiking to Malavalle. http://www.arttrav.com/tuscany/hike-hermitage-san-guglielmo-malavalle