In the latest in a series that allows us to showcase some of the stained glass and artwork belonging to the College, Fr Mark Cassidy reflects on the little-known William of Perth.
A mysterious figure
When I arrived in the College as a seminarian in 1981, I was amazed to find a stained glass window dedicated to the memory of St William of Perth. The amazement stemmed from the fact that, as a native of Perth, I had never heard of him. I do not remember anything in the city that spoke of him or anything that was dedicated to him. All of the principal Christian denominations in the city (Catholic, Presbyterian and Episcopalian) have churches dedicated to St John the Baptist, the patron of Perth, but none to our own St William.
So, who was this ‘William’? What little seems to be known about him is that he was a baker by trade and one who set aside part of his daily produce to feed the poor. He is said to have attended Mass daily and on finding an abandoned child at the door of the church, adopted him (he was, after his death, known as the patron saint of adopted children).
His kindness to the child, David, was rewarded in a brutal manner. William had set off with his son on a pilgrimage to the Holy Places and leaving Rochester to travel to Canterbury, he was bludgeoned and had his throat slit by this adopted son. It is said that the motive for this violent act was simply robbery.
The first miracle attributed to William is said to have taken place immediately after his death. A ‘madwoman’ is said to have come across his body and plaited a crown of flowers which she placed on William’s head and then on her own, and at that moment she was found to be in her right senses. Hearing of this, the monks carried William’s body to the cathedral in Rochester and he was buried there. Following his canonisation by Pope Alexander IV, his shrine in Rochester Cathedral attracted many pilgrims, as did a small church built at the site of his death.
St William died about 1201. He was canonised in 1256. His feast day is 23rd May.
Fr Mark Cassidy is the outgoing Spiritual Director of the Pontifical Scots College. He took up his current role in 2011, and is a priest of the Diocese of Dunkeld. He will return to the diocese this summer.