This calendar of saints is drawn from several denominations, sects, and traditions. Although it will no longer be updated daily, the index on the right will guide visitors to a saint celebrated on any day they choose. Additional saints will be added as they present themselves to Major.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

September 2 -- Feast of Saint William of Roskilde

In the film Gladiator, Maximus says, "What we do in life echoes in eternity."

In Wall Street, Bud Fox says, "Life comes down to a few moments."  He then presumes that he can recognize such moments by adding, "This is one of them." 

There's really only one echo from the life of William, Bishop of Roskilde, even though he is clearly an historically attested figure, an English chaplain to the Danish royal family.  The Danes conquered England in the eleventh century and William did not scruple to enter their service.  It is tough to know which Cnut he served -- Cnut the Great, who became king in 1016, or his son Cnut III (Harthacnut), who acceded his father's throne in 1035.

Sweyn II, the Honest
William accompanied Cnut to Denmark and was shocked to find such ignorance, idolatry, and superstition.  Okay, I guess that's a pretty big moment, too, since he opted to stay and was elevated to bishop of Roskilde Cathedral, the first stone church in Denmark.  

My usual sources say that he was popular with the non-specific Cnut, but had a tough time with his successor, Sweyn.  The sources leap right over the five years that  Magnus the Good ruled Denmark.  Of course, popular sources about Magnus (and the Cnuts) don't mention William either, so it is only fair.

Sweyn, Cnut the Great's nephew, succeeded Magnus in 1047 and lasted until 1074.  The latter date is curious because various sources list Saint William's death year as 1067 or 1070, but one source declares unmistakably that the King died before the bishop.  William's deeds (or at least some of them) may echo in eternity, but the echoes become indistinct and distorted over the ages.

art by Lawrence Kimecki, used without permission
Sweyn was not a bad man, but he needed the bishop to remind him what the new rules were.  For instance, his marriage to a Danish princess did not seem to him to be inappropriate, but William quickly defined the word incest for him.  He submitted to the bishop's judgment and sent his cousin (niece, maybe?) along to find a less germane husband.

There was apparently much to their friendship, but not a lot of details have been left to us.  It was severely strained when the king had some malcontents and critics ( killed without trial. They were killed on New Year's Day.  In church.

Later in the day, Sweyn showed up at the Cathedral  and found his friend the Bishop barring his way, crozier in hand.

"You stand condemned before God, a murderer, who has defiled the house of God with blood!"

Sweyn's tomb in Roskilde Cathedral
The soldiers accompanying the King reached for their swords.  William pulled back his tunic so they could have a clean swipe at his neck.  Sweyn got everyone calmed down, submitted to the Bishop's judgment, did his penance and was again admitted to the Table of the Lord.

If life does indeed come down to only a few moments, that was certainly one of them.

Sources disagree about whether Sweyn or William died first.  They agree, however, that they are buried beside each other in Roskilde Cathedral. 

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