Rev. Alban Butler (171173). Volume III: March. The Lives of the Saints. 1866.
St. William of Norwich, Martyr
THIS martyr was another victim of the implacable rage of the Jews against our holy religion. He suffered in the twelfth year of his age. Having been not long bound an apprentice to a tanner in Norwich, a little before Easter, in 1137, the Jews of that city having enticed him into their houses, seized and gagged him: then they bound, mocked and crucified him, in derision of Christ: they also pierced his left side. On Easter-day they put the body into a sack, and carried it into Thorp-wood, now a heath, near the gates of the city, there to bury it; but being discovered, left it hanging on a tree. The body was honoured with miracles, and, in 1144, removed into the church-yard of the cathedral of the Holy Trinity, by the monks of that abbey; and in 1150, into the choir. On the place in Thorp-wood, where the body of the martyred child was found, a chapel was built, called St. William in the wood. Mr. Weever writes that, the Jews in the principal cities of the kingdom, used sometimes to steal away, circumcise, crown with thorns, whip, torture, and crucify some neighbours male-child, in mockery and scorn of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. St. Richard of Pontoise, in France, was martyred by them in that manner. As also St. Hugh, (according to Matthew Paris and John Capgrave,) a child crucified at Lincoln, in 1255. Nevertheless it is a notorious slander of some authors, who, from these singular and extraordinary instances, infer this to have been at any time the custom or maxim of that people. The English calendars commemorated St. William on the 24th of March. See the history of his martyrdom and miracles by Thomas of Monmouth, a contemporary monk; also the Saxon Chronicle of the same age, and Bloomfields History of Norfolk.1
Note 1. Pope Benedict XIV. l. 1. de Canon, c. 14. p. 103. shows that children who die after baptism before the use of reason, though saints, ought not to be canonized, because they never practised any heroic degree of virtue; and because this was never authorized by tradition in the church. Martyrs only, or infants, whether baptized or not, which were slain out of hatred to the name of Christ, are to be accepted, as is clear from the example of the Holy Innocents, who are styled martyrs by St. Irenæus, Origen, and other fathers, and the most ancient missals and homilies of fathers on their festival, prove them to have been honoured as such from the primitive ages. Hence infants murdered by Jews, out of hatred to Christ, have been ranked among the martyrs; as St. Simon of Trent, by the authority of the bishop of that city, afterwards confirmed by the decrees of the Popes Sixtus V. and Gregory XIII. also St. William of Norwich, in England, (though this child having attained to the use of reason, is rather to be called an adult martyr) and St. Richard of Pontoise, also about twelve years old, murdered in 1182, by certain Jews in the reign of Philip Augustus, who for this and other crimes banished the Jews out of France, in April, that same year. The body of St. Richard was translated to Paris, and enshrined in the parish church of the Holy Innocents, where his feast is kept on the 30th of March, but at Poutoise on the 25th. The celebrated F. Gaguin has written the history of his martyrdom, with an account of several miracles wrought at his shrine. His head is still shown in that church; the rest of his relics are said to have been carried off by the English, when they were masters of Paris. [back]