William of Volpiano

Saint William of Volpiano (Italian : Guglielmo da Volpiano ; French : Guillaume de Volpiano; English : William of Dijon, William of Saint Benignus) (June/July 962 – January 1, 1031) was an Italian monastic reformer and founding abbot of numerous abbeys in Burgundy, Italy and Normandy.

William of Volpiano;
Basilica San Giulio (12th century)
Isola San Giulio; William of Volpiano was born here in 962 AD
Abbey of Fécamp


Not much is known about him. The main source is a Vita of the monk Raoul Glaber, a novice who accompanied William and who sometimes regarded his master as a rival, but also as a mentor who incouraged his work as a chronicler.[1]

William was born on the family citadel on the island of San Giulio, Lake Orta, Novara, Piedmont. The son of Count Robert of Volpiano, he was born during an assault on the citadel by the Emperor Otto. The assault being successful, Otto became the sponsor and patron of Count Robert's son.

The fourth son of Count Robert, in 969, at the age of seven, he began his education at the Benedictine abbey at Locadio, Vercelli. He became a monk at this abbey. In 987, he became a monk at the Abbey of Cluny under Saint Majolus. Zealous for reform, he reorganized Saint-Sernin abbey on the Rhône River.

William was ordained in 990 and served as abbot of Saint Benignus' Abbey at Dijon, dedicated to Saint Benignus of Dijon. Under William's direction, and his zeal for the Cluniac reform, St. Benignus' became a center of spirituality, education, and culture.[2] It also became the mother house of some forty other monasteries in Burgundy, Lorraine, Normandy, and northern Italy.

He was chosen as building contractor for Mont Saint-Michel in the 11th century. He designed the Romanesque church of the abbey, daringly placing the transept crossing at the top of the mount. Many underground crypts and chapels had to be built to compensate for this weight. These formed the basis for the supportive upward structure that can be seen today. He also rebuilt the Abbey of Saint-Germain-des-Prés.

In 1001, he was called to rebuild the destructed Abbey of Fécamp (present-day department of Seine-Maritime) by Richard II, where the Dukes of Normandy had their palace and had chosen to be buried. William had to supervise the (re)construction and to found several abbeys in Normandy (Bernay, Jumièges and Mont Saint-Michel).

William died of natural causes at Fécamp.

See also


  1. The main source is one manuscript (F-Pn lat. 5390) where the 15 pages of William's vita are bound together with other hagiographic writings. The edition and French translation was published by Véronique Gazeau and Monique Goullet (2008), but there was already an English translation and edition by Bulst and France (1989) whose edition was approved.
  2. A unique fully notated tonary (Montpellier, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Médecine, Ms. H159) which indicates the pitches of chant and its microtonal shifts, has been survived from the time of his reform (Tonary of St. Bénigne, Dijon). A similar chant notation had also been used for the chant books of William of Volpiano's later Norman foundations.


  • William of Volpiano. "Montpellier, Bibliothèque interuniversitaire de Médecine, Ms. H159, pp.7-322". Tonary-Gradual & Antiphonary of the Abbey St. Bénigne in Dijon (about 1000).
  • Raoul Glaber. "Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, fonds lat., ms. 5390, ff.222r-230r". Vita Domni VVillelmi Abbatis primi Fiscannensis [Life of Sir William the first Abbot of Fécamp] (11th century).


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