St William of Perth
There can not be many cities in the country that has had one of its former inhabitants canonised and created a Saint. The City of Perth has its own saint and here is his story.
There was a man called William who lived in Perth around the later years of the 1100s. He was a baker and was deeply religious, going to church every Sunday without fail. William was a kindly and considerate man who was liked and respected by the population of the Fair City. When he had finished baking the days bread, he carefully took out one loaf from every ten and put it aside to give to the poor of the town.
Early one morning he was walking to his bakery as he passed St John’s Church he saw a wicker basket lying in the doorway. Upon inspection, he saw that the basket contained a sleeping baby. William gently picked up this basket and took it to the warmth of his bakery.
As he worked, he thought about this baby, it was clearly abandoned, he then decided as he had no children and was financially secure he could bring this child up as if it were his own. The child was a wee boy and William named it David, he gave it a stable, good life with much love and kindness, the child was called by the locals David the Foundling and as the years rolled by grew up into a healthy young man helping his father in the bakery.
In 1201, William realised he wanted to go on a pilgrimage to the Holy Land as he prepared he asked his son to accompany him on this journey. Grudgingly, David agreed, he had friends and a good life in Perth and was not at all keen on leaving the city.
The two men set off travelling through Scotland and into England visiting the religious sites as they went. William and David were just a little bit north of the town of Rochester when they fell out and had a terrible argument at the roadside. David in a fit of rage, struck his father a violent blow on the head, the older man fell to the ground, David then drew a dagger and cut his father’s throat. He then robbed his benefactor and fled the murder scene.
A short time later a local woman who had a reputation of being mad stumbled upon the body. The woman was wearing a garland of Honeysuckle upon her head. She stood staring quietly at the corpse for some time and then she took the Honeysuckle from her head and placed it on the head of the dead man. After leaving the flowers on the cadaver for a while, she took it and set it back upon her head. In an instant, her madness was cured. She walked down into the town of Rochester, locals who knew this woman realised that her illness had left her and summoned the priests from Rochester Cathedral. She told her story and took the holy men to the murder scene. William was taken back to the Cathedral and laid out on public display.
News of this murder and the mad woman being miraculously cured spread far and wide, folk with ailments flocked to the cathedral and touched the corpse. Many were healed upon touching the body of William. William was buried within Rochester Cathedral, a chapel was built on the site of the murder. The sick and infirm flocked from all over the land to touch the grave and hopefully be healed. The shrine of William became the second most popular holy shrine in England, second only to that of Thomas Becket at Canterbury.
William was canonised by Pope Alexander IV in 1256 and became St William of Perth, he is the patron saint of adopted children. In 1883 a wall painting was found in Frindsbury Church near Rochester depicting William it was found to have been painted between 1256 and 1266. He is still remembered in the town of Rochester, with a street in Rochester called St William’s Way, there was a Hospital in the town called St William’s Hospital and St William of Perth Primary School all pay homage to this man from Perth.
It is a shame that this child of Perth and his story seems to be better known in the South of England than it is in his home city. Perhaps on his feast day the 23rd of May you might spare a thought for St William of Perth.
Written by Gary Knight
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If you enjoyed this article, why not take a look at Garys book ‘No Fair City’?
Battles, regicides, executions, conspiracies, murders, floods, fires, crimes, punishments, and mayhem No Fair City by Gary Knight has them all. Delve into the darker side of historical Perth, where witches, smugglers, grave robbers, murderers, and thieves conduct their ghastly business. Learn how the guilty (and innocent) were tried, punished, and executed. Read how, in a world before health and safety, plague, fire, the merciless River Tay, and the Perth s lade, railways and roads, took their daily toll of townsfolk and visitors.
You can find it here.